SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) – During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom decided to close several Orange County beaches after droves of Californians defied stay-at-home orders to enjoy the sun.
Newsom’s decision immediately drew criticism, not just by beachgoers but by public officials who said the governor was usurping local authority.
The complaints were piled on top of criticism from rural counties that said Newsom was applying restrictions more appropriate for larger counties, where the COVID-19 virus is more widespread.
One Republican state official filed half a dozen lawsuits alone on issues surrounding the violation of constitutional rights.
“There is not a lot of case law on this, however, there is some,” attorney Mark Reichel to FOX40.
Reichel has made oral arguments in numerous appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the government in efforts to halt a smallpox epidemic in 1900 over the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs, according to Reichel.
“The Supreme Court has always held that in America, your freedoms are extensive,” explained Reichel.
But Reichel said those freedoms are not absolute in all cases “because your freedoms cannot cause harm to others.”
Reichel told FOX40 that is what Newsom’s justice department is arguing in court: The state refuses to cause more harm by letting the pandemic go on unchecked.
“Then it’s going to be very difficult for someone to sue and to prevail and say that my constitutional rights are being violated,” explained Reichel.
But Reichel said that still leaves a lot of gray area for deliberation.
Smaller counties with fewer COVID-19 cases argue that they shouldn’t be lumped in with more populated areas when deciding when to reopen the economy.
“They’re probably are in a decent position to make that argument,” said Reichel.
The governor’s reopening strategy on who opens and when is data-driven but some constitutional rights advocates take issue with how that data is interpreted.
“They think the facts just aren’t there, the facts don’t justify the response,” said Reichel.
While some of Newsom’s critics have dropped their lawsuits as restrictions are lifted, others expect their challenges to go through the court process. This means the judgment on the governor’s actions may not be made until long after the pandemic is over.