HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a rebuke of one of the governor’s key efforts aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19, the Justice Department has called the state’s mandatory quarantine for travelers discriminatory.
The agency filed a 21-page Statement of Interest Tuesday in a legal challenge to the 14-day quarantine, saying the emergency rule is unfair to non-residents and “likely violates” constitutional protections of inter-state travel.
The quarantine applies to residents and visitors, and has some exemptions.
The Justice Department’s filing asserts that “Hawaii’s effective discrimination against out-of-state residents does not appear sufficiently tailored to ensuring public safety.”
In a news release following the filing, U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii Kenji Price said there are “bounds to the discretion our public officials have during times of crisis."
“Those bounds are shaped by constitutional safeguards, such as the right of Hawaii residents and persons who hail from other states to travel freely within this great country.”
The state shot back at the Justice Department’s conclusions, calling them 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,” the state Attorney General’s Office said, in a statement.
Challenges to the state’s quarantine come as the governor prepares to announce a new program for visitors that would allow them to forgo the mandatory quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19 before arriving in the islands.
If the quarantine rule is dropped, it’s not clear how Hawaii would be able to keep the testing program in place.
Several other states also have mandatory quarantines, though Ige has maintained that Hawaii is the only state actively enforcing the order. Dozens of visitors and a handful of residents have been arrested for violating the rule.
The Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii said they’ve helped send 123 people back to the mainland who have violated the quarantine. They’re given the choice to return home or follow the order.
Oahu lawyer Victor Bakke says he believes the Justice Department’s statement is politically motivated.
In the past, the Trump administration has publicly sparred with Ige, including over Hawaii’s vocal opposition to the president’s travel ban.
Bakke also said he believes the DOJ’s position is factually incorrect.
“They tried to say that the quarantine is unfair because it discriminated against people who live on the mainland and people who live here and they say people here don’t have to quarantine. That’s simply, factually not true,” Bakke said.
“If Hawaii people fly in, they get quarantined as well.”
The quarantine mandate has been in effect since March 26. For a time, it was expanded to include inter-island travelers.
On Hawaii News Now Sunrise Tuesday, Ige addressed criticism of his leadership during the pandemic. Some have said he’s been too slow to reboot tourism.
“Hawaii leads the nation in the per capita rate of infection, we have among the lowest hospitalization rates and lowest fatality rates,” he said. “So certainly, the critics can raise whatever issues they want to.”
“I know as governor, I need to live with the criticisms,” he added. “I would ask the people to look at the results and judge for themselves.”