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Gov. Mills' Campground Restrictions Violate Constitutional Rights, Department Of Justice Says

Troy R. Bennett
Gaelen and Tom Bayley of Bayley's Camping Resort in Scarborough stand in front of some of the empty sites at their normally busy business on Monday, May 18, 2020.

Gov. Janet Mills' 14-day quarantine for people coming into Maine is unconstitutional because it discriminates against out-of-staters who want to use the state’s campgrounds, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Friday.

The Democratic governor called it a political move that could harm Maine people.

The brief was filed in a lawsuit in federal court in Portland that was filed earlier this month by campground and restaurant owners in southern Maine. It asks U.S. District Judge Lance Walker to force Mills to lift her quarantine order.

“The United States Constitution requires government to protect the privileges and immunities of all citizens in our nation,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. “These privileges and immunities include the right of Americans to travel freely anywhere in our country, and state governments cannot limit the right of out-of-state Americans to travel to their state unless doing so is substantially related to protecting the public safety.”

Mills and Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey issued a joint statement in response to the justice department’s filing. Mills said that maintaining the quarantine is “a proven tool to prevent the spread of this deadly disease” and that she is working to find an alternative to it.

“I am deeply disappointed – and frankly disgusted – that the U.S Department of Justice is making a concerted effort to undermine the health of the people of Maine – objections they never raised when the president and his own task force took steps to limit travel,” she said. “It seems to me that their only actual ‘interest’ here is, at best, political or, at worst, to harm Mainers, not defend them.”

Frey said that his office had reviewed the self-quarantine measure and determined that “it was a lawful requirement consistent with Maine’s public health challenges.”

The justice department lawyer also said that Mills’ orders designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus are imposing devastating economic costs on the campgrounds owners who filed the lawsuit. Maine could use less restrictive means to advance its interest in protecting public safety, including requiring people from virus “hotspots,” such as New York City, to quarantine, he said.

“If Maine wants to prevent the spread of COVID-19, one would think it would start by preventing outsiders from attending a boardroom meeting, not from pitching a tent,” the brief said.

The justice department also said that a federal court in Kentucky on May 4 ruled that state’s 14-day quarantine “infringed on the right to interstate travelbecause its restrictions were inadequately ‘tailored to achieve the government’s purpose.’”

Mills allowed private campgrounds in Maine to reopen to state residents but not out-of-staters on Memorial Day weekend.

The businesses that filed the lawsuit — Bayley’s Camping Resort, the Little River Bar & Grille and the Seaside Square Cafe, all in Scarborough, and the Little Ossipee Campground in Waterboro — claim that the 14-day quarantine is negatively impacting their businesses.

Between March 16 and May 12, Bayley’s Camping Resort canceled 715 reservations because of the quarantine requirement, according to the lawsuit, which was filed after business hours on Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland. As a result, the business has refunded $153,182 in reservation fees and lost $260,455 in revenue.

Little Ossipee Campground has lost $38,000 in revenue from 10 seasonal campsite cancellations. Revenue there is down by $94,428 this year, the lawsuit said.

The state has argued that the orders crafted by Mills, a former attorney general, are constitutional.

“The self-quarantine order does not implicate or violate the constitutional right-to-travel or any other constitutional provision,” her attorneys said in their brief. “As the Supreme Court held long ago, states have broad latitude when confronting a public health emergency, and the normal constitutional analysis does not apply.”

U.S. District Judge Lance Walker, a Trump appointee, has not said when he will issue a ruling on the motion for the injunction.

“Who would think a loon would stand a chance against such a powerful predator?”

This story appears through a media sharing agreement with Bangor Daily News.