The current crisis has spared nobody from hardship. Whether it’s the thousands suffering from the virus or the millions who have lost their jobs, the costs of this pandemic and our response is staggering.

Government has a role to play in protecting the public’s health, but that role is limited. It can monitor a disease and coordinate a public health response. It can order quarantines and curtail activities when necessary to stop the spread of a dangerous disease.

But government alone cannot restart a depressed economy, and recovery won’t come through business shutdowns.

The only way we will emerge from this crisis is by unleashing Americans’ productive energy. To do that, government needs to get out of the way—right now, to save lives, and when the immediate threat is over, to get people back to work.

PLF takes the fight to legislatures, courts of law, and the court of public opinion to free Americans to rebuild from this crisis.

America's Health Care system

Connecticut nail salon owner fights for fair treatment under “shutdown” orders

Luis Ramirez closed his Hartford, CT, nail salon in March, following the governor’s executive orders for statewide shutdown. When Luis and his wife, Rosiris, thought they’d be able to reopen on May 20, they scraped together $800 to comply with the necessary precautions to safely serve customers. But the state, under the unlawful authority of the governor, inexplicably pushed back nail salons’ reopening to June 17—or later—despite allowing hair salons to open on June 1. Represented by PLF free of charge, Luis and Rosiris are fighting back against the governor’s unconstitutional power grab that robbed them of their right to responsibly open their business. Read more

Recommendations

Relax or end unnecessary and arbitrary business closures

As shutdown orders have continued and been extended, government officials have applied lockdown orders or “reopening” plans in unfair and unconstitutional ways. Even when responding to a pandemic, government must respect constitutional rights and the rule of law.

  • Some state shutdown orders have set up different rules for businesses with similar health risks. Rules should not be arbitrary or based on which businesses have the most political pull. Read more
  • Individuals have the most knowledge about their own preferences and the incentives to keep themselves safe. Shutdown orders choice at the level of individuals and groups about whether to associate in-person. Read more

Return the branches of government to their proper roles

State and federal executives have taken unprecedented measures to respond to the virus, under the guise of protecting health and safety. As we’ve gained more knowledge, and more time has passed, such emergency action is less justified and demands more scrutiny.

  • Legislatures should reclaim their law-making power. As elected representatives accountable to voters, they should be making the tough decisions about what actions to take in response to the pandemic. Read more
  • Court should limit the open-ended emergency powers given to governors, which cannot be all-encompassing or last forever. Read more
  • Emergency action must respect constitutional protections, such as freedom of speech and association, property rights, and due process of law.

Embrace entrepreneurs and the right to earn a living

Millions of Americans must find new work. Old regulations must not create needless barriers to new opportunities.

  • Right now, 36 states prohibit health care providers from expanding the supply of medical services hospital beds, medical equipment, and new facilities without government permission. This appalling red tape left our most vulnerable populations without enough medical services when they needed it and crippled our nation’s response to COVID-19. Read more
  • So-called “gig workers” have been delivering food to millions of people across the country who remain sheltered-in-place. And freelance workers of all kinds were well positioned to work from home as offices began closing. One-size-fits-all labor laws undermine the flexibility, creativity, adaptation required during a crisis—and beyond. Read more
  • Occupational licensing cripples the ability of many people to earn a living in the job of their choice—or doing what they love. What’s worse, these licensing rules exist more often to protect existing businesses and professionals from competition than to protect public health or safety.

Ensure that the burdens of the pandemic aren’t foisted on unpopular groups

If the government decides that the public must pay to fight the pandemic, those cost must be shared by all. We can’t expect certain groups who might be politically unpopular to bear costs that should be borne by the public.

Remove eviction bans and rent moratoria, which force landlords to provide free housing to tenants who may or may not need support Read more

End unconstitutional adoption of eviction orders, whether done by courts or regulatory agencies Read more

Read our FAQ about the government’s emergency orders and what PLF recommends doing about them.

Cases

June 15, 2020

The Sun Sentinel: Florida ambulances need flexibility to serve consumers both now and after the pandemic

As Florida re-opens the economy, no one knows quite what to expect. But one thing that’s clear is that medical providers must be ready to respond to whatever comes — and quickly. Unfortunately, the state’s certificate of need laws stand in the way. Just months ago, Florida’s certificate of need requirement prevented a Naples-based ambulance company from helping those affected in its community. The Florida Legislature can and should repeal this law at the earliest possible opportunity.

May 22, 2020

Issues & Insights: The regulatory state is preventing the right people from getting needed COVID-19 supplies

As we consider how to reopen society safely, one problem remains — shortages of accurate COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment like masks and latex gloves. Many demand that the federal government solve the problem. To be sure, there are things that the federal government can and should do in the face of an international pandemic. But, as this crisis shows, placing all of our eggs in one centralized basket is unwise. A better solution is to rely on free people to help each other.

May 20, 2020

City Journal: Can we sue our way out of quarantine?

The longer the lockdowns last and the less necessary that they seem, the more scrutiny courts will apply. State governors from coast to coast issued coronavirus-related lockdown orders about two months ago, closing businesses and restricting people’s movements. Government officials have taken unprecedented steps, seemingly without much calculation or forethought. In New York, for instance, Governor Andrew Cuomo insisted on March 18 that he would not approve a shelter-in-place order; by March 20, he praised California’s lockdown and announced Gotham’s own stay-at-home regime. New York and many other states have extended these orders indefinitely.

May 01, 2020

The Wall Street Journal: Government’s Ambulance Chasers

One of the most essential responses to a pandemic is ensuring medical providers can adapt quickly to meet new demands. Yet recently an all-female EMT brigade in New York, a family-run ambulance business in Ohio and a fifth-generation ambulance company in Florida were all stopped from providing vital medical transportation. Why? Because they couldn’t prove to the government’s satisfaction that their services were “needed.”

July 14, 2020

The Hill: Quarantines for out-of-state visitors exceeds governors’ emergency authority

At the end of June, the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced that anyone coming into their states from other states identified as coronavirus “hot spots” — now up to 19 states — are required to quarantine themselves for 14 days. Ironically, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York earlier in the pandemic called a similar policy put in place by Rhode Island for those who had been to New York unlawful and threatened to sue. But Cuomo was right then and is wrong now. These travel restrictions are constitutionally dubious and deeply problematic.

July 14, 2020

The limits of a governor’s emergency powers

Even in a public health emergency, the constitution still matters. That's one lesson we can take from the restraining order issued by a California judge on June 12 halting one of Governor Gavin Newsom's emergency orders. The ruling argued that Newsom's order overstepped his office's authority, infringing upon the legislature's lawmaking powers. The ...

June 11, 2020

Governments can’t use COVID-19 as an excuse for arbitrary and unconstitutional policies

This week, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit in Connecticut challenging unconstitutional policies enacted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Until today, PLF has not filed lawsuits challenging shutdown and other emergency orders. As the country has struggled to flatten the curve of infections, our primary strategy has been challenging new ...

May 19, 2020

Napa County art gallery objects to arbitrary reopening order

Today Pacific Legal Foundation is putting Governor Gavin Newsom and Napa County officials on notice that their reopening plans are arbitrarily depriving individuals of their ability to responsibly resume business, which presents serious constitutional concerns. We've written this letter in support of Quent and Linda Cordair, owners of Quent Cordair ...

May 14, 2020

Avoiding government overreach in the COVID-19 recovery

Too often, government makes bad situations worse. States have broad powers to protect the health and safety of their citizens—especially during emergencies like the COVID-19 outbreak, but many overreaching and arbitrary government policies having little to do with public safety have made the situation more painful and destructive than necessary. ...

April 30, 2020

Restrictive housing policies put low-income city residents at risk during COVID-19

In the 19th century, epidemics and crowded tenement housing went hand in hand. Cholera, smallpox, and even the bubonic plague swept through America's slum housing in numbers that make the COVID-19 epidemic seem like a case of the sniffles. Unfortunately, today's housing policies in many urban areas make low-income and minority city residents most a ...

April 02, 2020

Ten examples of companies innovating to make our lives better during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused incredible turmoil and pain for millions of people around the world. This uncertainty has inspired many to call for government to step in and fight the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that hospitals and critical industries have the resources and supplies they need. While government policies have a role in ...

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