Maryland: State delegates, pastors and businesses file lawsuit against Gov. Hogan seeking to end coronavirus restrictions

May 2, 2020 | By Pamela Wood | The Baltimore Sun |

The effort to lift restrictions in Maryland aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus has moved to court, with several politicians, pastors and business owners filing a federal lawsuit. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

Maryland politicians, pastors and business owners banded together Saturday afternoon to file a sweeping federal lawsuit aimed at ending restrictions enacted by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in response to the coronavirus.

The lawsuit argues that the governor’s orders banning large gatherings and closing most businesses violate constitutional and federal laws protecting commerce, freedom of assembly, the right to protest and the right to practice their religion.

Republican Dels. Dan Cox, Warren Miller and Neil Parrott argue that the restrictions against travel violate their duties to oversee Hogan and state government.

The 56-page lawsuit taps into sentiment among some groups of protesters nationwide that governors have gone too far in efforts to contain the coronavirus. The plaintiffs mention a recent memo by U.S. Attorney General William Barr calling for federal prosecutors to be on the lookout for states that infringe on the rights of its citizens.

And the lawsuit hits a consistent theme that the actions constitute a violation of first amendment protections of speech and religion.

“Under the Governor’s Executive Orders, Lowes and Walmart are permitted to have hundreds of cars and people because the Governor chose them to be ‘essential” businesses,’ the lawsuit states. “However, under the same orders a church may not have anyone in its buildings with limited exceptions for ‘virtual’ services, and businesses that operate for camping or recreation or other provisions such as hair salons and a myriad of other businesses, are prohibited from even being open.”

Cox, who is both a plaintiff and an attorney for the plaintiffs, did not respond to multiple requests for comment Saturday night.

Cox claims in the lawsuit that a “senior law enforcement official” whom he did not name dissuaded him from attending an event in Frederick Saturday to kick off a cross-state rally in support of lifting the restrictions. He claims the law enforcement official threatened that the delegate might be arrested.

Cox said in the lawsuit that he asked two of Hogan’s advisers for written documentation that he could attend the rally in his role as a lawmaker, but the only response he received was a copy of the executive order banning large gatherings.

Hogan has not reviewed the lawsuit and declined to comment through his spokesman, Mike Ricci.

Ricci, however, had this to say about the lawsuit: “We fully respect Delegate Cox’s right to protest, but that doesn’t entitle him to make false and baseless claims. Also, I thought Republicans were the ones who didn’t like frivolous lawsuits.”

The lawsuit names Hogan, Health Secretary Robert Neall, Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips and Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Woodrow W. Jones III as defendants.

The plaintiffs also asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order to halt enforcement of the executive orders.

The owners of the Antietam Battlefield KOA campground in Williamsport are losing $50,000 per month due since they’ve been forced to close under the executive orders, according to the lawsuit. The owners of Adventure Park in New Market expect to lose $700,000 this spring.

The plaintiffs include two military veterans who refuse to wear face coverings because it reminds them of battlefields in Iraq.

And several pastors who are plaintiffs claim that their churches can’t hold online or outdoor drive-in worship services because they lack the equipment to do so.

The group of plaintiffs also includes Reopen Maryland LLC, a group that has so far organized two demonstrations against the executive orders, including one on Saturday. The lawsuit claims the group is suffering “ongoing violations of constitutional rights.”

Legal experts have said that Hogan is within his authorities outlined in state law, so long as his actions are not arbitrary and capricious. The Public Safety Article in the Maryland Code grants a governor broad authority in states of emergency and catastrophic public health events.

The lawsuit argues that Hogan’s actions go beyond the scope of his authorities in the Maryland Code, which “do not include any powers to require the population to stay-at-home, wear face masks, refrain from assembling in church, refrain from doing business or participating in commerce.” It also argues that Hogan’s actions amount to violations of Constitutional rights.

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