Justice Department Challenges Hawaii Quarantine

The U.S. Justice Department has intervened in a lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs challenging Hawaii's mandatory two-week quarantine for travelers arriving on the island state. The Trump-appointed judge did not react favorably.

June 29, 2020, 12:00 PM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Coronavirus Protest

RightFramePhotoVideo / Shutterstock

As posted last week, Hawaii has the nation's lowest COVID-19 infection rate per capita, with 61 cases per 100,000 people, though the 7-day moving average of new cases increasing since May 28.  While their triumph is largely a result of successful coronavirus testing and contact tracing, a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for arrivals which has been in effect since March 26 also deserves much credit by preventing inter-state travelers from introducing the infection unknowingly. [The program will soon allow an alternative to quarantine – see below.]

On June 23, "the Justice Department issued a routine news release announcing that it had filed a 'statement of interest' — essentially a friend-of-the-court brief — arguing that an order issued by Gov. David Ige of Hawaii imposing a two-week quarantine unconstitutionally infringes on the rights of nonresidents seeking to visit the state," reports Josh Gerstein for POLITICO.

Most courts have received such briefs with little controversy, but U.S. District Court Judge Jill Otake in Honolulu quickly fired off an order questioning the federal government’s right to submit a brief without court permission and accusing the Justice Department of raising legal issues not raised by the plaintiffs, who are mostly out-of-state residents with property in Hawaii.

The unexpected move by Otake appears to be the first serious judicial resistance to the drive that Attorney General William Barr announced in April to scrutinize state and local lockdown measures aimed at containing the coronavirus.

The lawsuit "filed by Nevada and California residents who own property in Hawaii," according to the AP, "argue that their rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments have been violated by the denial of their right to travel, liberty and equal protection," reported Brigette Honaker for Top Class Actions.

In response to the Justice Department's claim that the quarantine discriminates against non-residents, lawyers for Ige wrote [pdf], “It treats non-residents exactly the same as returning residents since both are subject to its requirements," adds Gerstein.

The same provision applies to the new Tri-State (NY, NJ, Conn.) COVID-19 Travel Advisory that took effect June 25 "for anyone returning from travel to states that have a significant degree of community-wide spread of COVID-19." [See related post below].

Hawaii to offer alternative to quarantine

On August 1, travelers to Hawaii will be able to opt-out of the quarantine if they "show proof that they had a negative molecular-based COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of their travel," reported Eleni Gill for Honolulu Civil Beat on June 24.

The program is similar to one adopted by Alaska earlier this month, which removed its quarantine for those who show negative test results.

Because the program will likely lead to an increase in travelers to Hawaii, Ige said officials expect to see more coronavirus cases, but Hawaii hospitals are equipped with the capacity to handle new infections.

As for the intervention by the Justice Department, "Otake said she wouldn’t consider the Justice Department’s arguments — at least at this initial stage of the case where the plaintiffs are seeking an injunction against the state policy," adds Gerstein.

Related in Planetizen:

Thursday, June 25, 2020 in Politico

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