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Can a Governor Order Visitors From Another State to Be Quarantined?

Patrol officer stands at window of luxury car
By Richard Dahl on April 07, 2020 7:44 AM

Ordinarily, governors love it when people from other states come to visit and spend money.

But these are not ordinary times.

As the coronavirus pandemic has expanded exponentially in recent weeks, several governors have said outsiders are not welcome and have taken steps to stop them. Their fear: outsiders might be carrying the virus with them.

In particular, this fear has been directed toward those from "hot spots" like New York and other northeastern states.

Governors Are Targeting 'Outsiders'

On March 24, for instance, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order requiring that anyone from the New York area who arrived during the previous three weeks must submit to a 14-day quarantine. They were also required to provide names of anyone they've been in contact with in Florida so that public health officials can trace them as well.

On March 26, Rhode Island's governor, Gina Raimondo, announced a similar measure requiring that anyone arriving from New York must self-quarantine for 14 days. Raimondo then took the dramatic step of ordering the state police and the National Guard to enforce the order, creating troubling scenes of uniformed officers pulling over cars with New York license plates and forcing the occupants to register with the government. Officers also knocked on doors where they suspected New Yorkers were staying.

Also on March 26, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an emergency order requiring air travelers from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New Orleans to quarantine for 14 days or the length of their stays. Three days later, he expanded the order to include air travelers from Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, all of California, all of Washington state, and noncommercial road travel from Louisiana.

Maryland and South Carolina have adopted similar measures. And then Alaska took things a step further by requiring nearly all visitors to quarantine.

Are These Orders Legal?

If you've never heard of anything like this happening in the U.S., it's probably because it hasn't — at least not in a very long time.

"Historians said it was difficult to recall a time in modern American history when states imposed quarantine restrictions on residents of certain other states," the New York Times reported.

Of course, the governors are taking these emergency steps in an attempt to protect their own residents and ease the pressure on their states' medical facilities.

But are they legal?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for one, doesn't think so. He threatened to sue Rhode Island over that state's targeting of New Yorkers, and Raimondo responded by repealing the order — and broadening it by applying the restrictions to all other states.

Stephen Brown, the executive director of the Rhode Island American Liberties Union, pulled no punches in describing Raimondo's actions as flat-out unconstitutional.

"Under the Fourth Amendment, having a New York state license plate simply does not, and cannot, constitute 'probable cause' to allow police to stop a car and interrogate the driver, no matter how laudable the goal of the stop may be," he said in a statement.

Responding to the targeting actions in Florida, Meryl Chertoff, executive director of the Georgetown Project on State and Local Government Policy and the Law, predicted to Politico.com that DeSantis will be sued because "(t)here is a right to travel."

He cited a 1941 U.S. Supreme Court case, Edwards v. California, which overturned a California law that made it a crime to bring a "pauper" into the state. That precedent applies to any class of people, Chertoff told Politico.

“DeSantis is applying the rule to a class of people, and he has no way of knowing who's sick or who's well. It is a big deal."

And as more governors are following suit, it's becoming an ever bigger deal.

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