The U.S. Department of Justice is siding with Maine campground and restaurant owners who have filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Maine over the 14-day self-quarantine for out-of-state residents. The restriction was imposed by Gov. Janet Mills as part of the state's response to the ongoing pandemic. At least 20 other states have imposed similar measures.
In a brief filed on behalf of Bayley's Campground in Scarborough and the other plaintiffs, attorneys with the Department of Justice, including the U.S. attorney for Maine, say the lawsuit raises an important issue "between the government's compelling interest in protecting the public and citizens' constitutional right to be free from unjustified discrimination on the basis of state residency."
And in this particular case, the attorneys say Maine has likely exceeded the Constitution's limits by discriminating between Maine residents and out-of-state residents, with respect to the ability to patronize campgrounds and RV parks in the state.
"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 attorneys said.
In response, Mills said in a statement she is "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." She points out that these objections were never raised when President Trump took his own steps to limit travel.
"Maintaining the 14-day quarantine... has never been about anything other than protecting the health and safety of Maine people at a time when millions are expected to flock to our state from COVID-19 hot-spots," Mills said. "I imagine it is for this same reason that so many other Governors have enacted similar measures."
Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey also weighed in, saying that the 14-day quarantine requirement was examined by his office and determined to be "lawful...consistent with Maine's public health challenges."
U.S. District Judge Lance Walker, a Trump appointee, rejected the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction to halt enforcement of the governor's order on Friday night.
Judge Walker said that while the plaintiffs have a civil rights action "that has potential," they have failed to demonstrate elements that are necessary for such an extraordinary remedy: the likelihood that they will ultimately prevail in court and that they will suffer irreparable harm.
"The irreparable injury element presents very weighty concerns," Walker wrote. "However, at present, I do not have a solid basis to conclude that the concern for Plaintiffs’ injuries exceeds the concern for public health or would justify a federal judge wading into the breach to dictate the most appropriate response to this pandemic insofar as the traveling public is concerned."
For those and other reasons, Walker denied the plaintiffs' motion.