Trump disputes federal law, claims he has 'total authority' to reopen state economies

Trump holds news conference as questions arise over Fauci, reopening the country
Posted at 3:38 PM, Apr 13, 2020

President Donald Trump contended on Monday that he has the ability to override the decisions of state governors to keep stay-at-home orders in place amid the spread of COVID-19 despite constitutional questions over the issue.

Trump declared on Monday that, "When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total and that is the way it is going to be. The governors know that."

But whether that's true appears to be doubt, based on federal laws and the constitution.

On the CDC's website, the CDC explains that federal law gives states the power to call for residents to isolate or quarantine amid a public health crisis.

"In addition to serving as medical functions, isolation and quarantine also are 'police power' functions, derived from the right of the state to take action affecting individuals for the benefit of society," according to the CDC's website.

"States have police power functions to protect the health, safety, and welfare of persons within their borders," the CDC's explanation goes on to say. "To control the spread of disease within their borders, states have laws to enforce the use of isolation and quarantine.

"These laws can vary from state to state and can be specific or broad. In some states, local health authorities implement state law. In most states, breaking a quarantine order is a criminal misdemeanor."

According to Cornell Law, "police power" is derived from the US Constitution's Bill of Rights, more specifically, the 10th amendment.

"The fundamental right of a government to make all necessary laws. In the United States, state police power comes from the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which gives states the rights and powers 'not delegated to the United States.' States are thus granted the power to establish and enforce laws protecting the welfare, safety, and health of the public," according to Cornell's description of "police power.'"

The power the federal government has is the following:

  • Acts to prevent the entry of communicable diseases into the United States. Quarantine and isolation may be used at U.S. ports of entry.
  • Is authorized to take measures to prevent the spread of communicable diseases between states.
  • May accept state and local assistance in enforcing federal quarantine.
  • May assist state and local authorities in preventing the spread of communicable diseases.

The decision to reopen state economies, Trump argued earlier in the day on Twitter, is his. Trump previously said that the decision would be left to the state governors

“For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government,” Trump said on Monday. “Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect.

“It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons. With that being said, the Administration and I are working closely with the Governors, and this will continue. A decision by me, in conjunction with the Governors and input from others, will be made shortly!”

Trump said last week that he will launch a council aimed at reopening the country.

"I'm going to surround myself with the greatest minds," he said in another marathon news conference at the White House. "We're going to make a decision, and hopefully, it's going to be the right decision."

He added on Monday that he will announce plans in the coming days on who will serve on this council, and additional plans on reopening state economies moving forward.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., said Monday that he is working in a pact with five other states to work on a coordinated plan to reopen their northeast states.

"We have been talking to other states, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island, for the past couple of days about coming up with how do we come up with a reopening plan, and can we work together on our reopening plan,” Cuomo said. “I want to make sure we, I can say that the people of this state, we did everything we could to the best of our ability. And the optimum is a geographically coordinated plan."

Presently, 43 states are under "stay-at-home" orders, which largely prohibits non-essential businesses from opening. Many states have also limited the number of people who can gather in one place.

Most states are following guidance from the White House that calls for Americans to avoid non-essential functions through April 30 in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

But experts caution that May 1 is not a magical date when state economies can reopen.

White House infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Sunday that the White House and states should be cautious about reopening sections of the country. He remains hopeful that parts of the nation would be able to reopen sections of the economy in May.

“We are hoping by the end of the month we can look around and say, okay, is there any element here that we can safely and cautiously start pulling back on, if so, do it. If not, then just continue to hunker down,” Dr. Fauci told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

A University of Washington model shows that COVID-19 deaths could stop by summer if mitigation efforts remain in effect through May, but the model shows a number of deaths from the virus all through May. The model is one the White House has been using to guide the coronavirus task force.

The model does not project if mitigation efforts end a month earlier.

The model also does not address a possible second wave of the virus, which Dr. Fauci and other experts expect could happen later in the year, even with intense mitigation efforts.

Justin Boggs is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @jjboggs or on Facebook