The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday jumped into a lawsuit challenging Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine for out of state residents.

The federal attorneys argue that the quarantine should end, in part because it doesn’t appear sufficient to protect public safety and is unconstitutional because it discriminates against out-of-state residents. 

Assistant Attorneys General Eric Dreiband and Alexander Maugeri, as well as U.S. Attorneys Kenji Price and Sydney Spector, filed the “statement of interest” backing up the claims of several Hawaii residents and people out-of-state who want the quarantine to end.

“Reasonable measures designed to protect the public are not only appropriate, but responsible during a pandemic, and the Constitution does not bind the hands of state officials who, through careful thought and deliberation impose such measures,” Price said in a statement. “However, there are bounds to the discretion our public officials have during times of crisis.”

U.S. attorneys also want Gov. David Ige to lift a 14-day quarantine. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The governor has broad powers conferred under state law to enact any measures to protect the state. At issue in this case is a balance between the constitutional rights of citizens and the government’s powers to limit certain rights during a pandemic.

“Here, Hawaii’s self-quarantine mandate effectively discriminates against out of-state residents,” the federal attorneys argue in a court filing.

The DOJ’s filing is part of a broader action by U.S. Attorney General William Barr looking into state rules enacted during the pandemic.

The plaintiffs are a California couple that own a Maui condo, an Oahu resident and a Nevada resident with a house in Kailua and a farm in Hilo. They claim they are being discriminated against because of the quarantine rule. One of the plaintiffs wanted to travel to visit an elderly relative.

The Center for American Liberty, which brought the suit, is also challenging state orders in California, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Some of those states on Tuesday issued new orders limiting travel from places with high case counts.

The U.S. attorneys argue for less restrictive measures to be in place. They also say that the quarantine imposed on all trans-Pacific air travel is too broad.

“Had (Ige) imposed such a burden only on residents from COVID-19 hot spots, such as New York City, this might be a different case,” the attorneys wrote.

The Hawaii Attorney General’s office said in a statement that the lawsuit and the DOJ’s filing are “without merit.”

“The Governor’s Emergency Proclamation for COVID-19 and the subsequent proclamations were properly and lawfully issued pursuant to the Governor’s statutory authority and his determination that an emergency exists due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the danger and threat it poses to Hawaii,” Krishna Jayaram, special assistant to the AG, said in a written statement.

House Speaker Scott Saiki in a statement Wednesday morning said the quarantine is not discriminatory.

“Governor Ige’s 14-day quarantine order is not discriminatory because it applies to all travelers. Mr. Price’s opposition to the quarantine disregards the health and safety of Hawaiʻi’s residents and economy,” Saiki said.

The plaintiffs in the case have also filed a restraining order with the state. If successful, the order would exempt them from the quarantine rules.

Ige is expected to announce plans to reopen travel Wednesday afternoon.

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