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A federal judge on Friday upheld Gov. Janet Mills’ 14-day quarantine for people coming into Maine despite the U.S. Department of Justice’s argument that the order is unconstitutional because it discriminates against out-of-staters who want to use the state’s campgrounds.
Bayley’s Camping Resort, the Little River Bar & Grille and the Seaside Square Cafe, all in Scarborough, and the Little Ossipee Campground in Waterboro sued Mills in U.S. District Court in Portland earlier this month claiming that the 14-day quarantine is negatively impacting their businesses. They sought a preliminary injunction to lift the order.
U.S. District Judge Lance Walker, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said that the case has potential but the plaintiffs had not yet shown that they would prevail in the long run, one of the standards for granting the injunction.
He wrote that the case “pits a prudent fear of a possible explosion of infection against a competing ethic best described as the indomitable human desire to enjoy individual liberty and pursue one’s life,” but that plaintiffs “have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, a favorable balance of the equities, and the absence of a serious countervailing public interest.”
“Furthermore, irreparable injury is, at this time, only suggested, though it is no doubt mounting,” he continued.
Mills allowed private campgrounds in Maine to reopen to state residents but not out-of-staters on Memorial Day weekend.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Tyler Smith of Kennebunk, said Saturday that Walker still could rule in his clients’ favor, but “simply declined to issue an injunction at this early stage of the case, without a developed factual record.”
“The court’s decision rejects most of the governor’s legal arguments, and agrees with us that the 14-day quarantine burdens the constitutional right to travel in a way that must be subjected to the utmost level of judicial scrutiny,” Smith said.
On Friday afternoon, Mills and Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey issued a statement in response to the justice department’s last-minute filing. Mills said that maintaining the quarantine is “a proven tool to prevent the spread of this deadly disease,” that she is working to find an alternative to it and that she was “disgusted” by the Justice Department’s intervention.
“It seems to me that their only actual ‘interest’ here is, at best, political or, at worst, to harm Mainers, not defend them,” she said.
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 travel because its restrictions were inadequately ‘tailored to achieve the government’s purpose.’”
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.”
Watch: Janet Mills announces changes to June 1 reopening phase