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Lawyers to Board of Supervisors: Shelter-in-place order might be unconstitutional

Kern County Board of Supervisors
Posted at 5:28 AM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 22:07:06-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif — A group of lawyers in Kern County sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors saying the shelter in place order is unconstitutional.

The letter begins thanking the Board of Supervisors for their work during the pandemic.

"First and foremost we the undersigned as residents and business owners in Kern County want to thank you for your dedication and service during this difficult time," said the letter

The letter says its purpose is to address concerns about the stay at home order. The letter says that based on case law the order violates the U.S. constitution and that the board and the county health department need to consider revoking and replacing the order.

One local attorney who helped write the letter, Isaac St. Lawrence said, “The purpose of the letter was just to express concerns to our local public officials.”St. Lawrence along with more than a dozen other local attorneys said this letter was not intended to be an early warning sign that pending litigation may be coming down the pipeline in the near future, "This letter wasn’t to threaten litigation but to simply ask the board of supervisors and the public health officer to reconsider their April 2, order.”

In their letter to officials attorneys argue that the order violates the First Amendment rights to exercise freedom of religion, by banning in person church gatherings on Easter and on the daily basis. They argued that by asking people not to gather peacefully in large groups is an also infringement on the First Amendment as well.

However, lately many residents can still be seen exercising their first amendment rights, “They are trying to keep their businesses going right now by doing to go but they can’t compete with these fast food restaurants they’re losing everything,” one protester said while protesting on a public sidewalk last week. As many protesters have taken to the streets, attorney’s also argue in their letter that the plain language of the stay-at-home order infringes on Second Amendment rights as well, arguing the closing of gun shops is unconstitutional. However, Kern County Sheriff Donny Younblood deemed gun shops essential weeks ago and criminal defense attorney, Mark Reimundo doesn’t believe their arguments hold much weight locally, “I don’t think it holds very much water given the fact that guns are still available.”

The letter also claims that by shutting down non-essential businesses, the order is violating Fifth Amendment rights. Attorney's state that they believe this is taking property owners rights to earn a living by use of their property for conducting business, without due process or compensation from the county. Attorneys argue in their letter that this is grounds for holding the county liable for violation of rights down the line.

Attorneys also argued the order violates 'freedom of movement,' by outlawing gatherings and that officials need to take a closer look and revoke the order, but some believe their claims don’t apply to the local climate, “They take the time to write a four to five page letter without a single person noted whose been damaged, without a single recommendation so I don’t even know what they want,” Reimundo said.

The county supervisor and the county health department both declined to comment on the letter. The authors of the letter reiterated that this was simply a move to express concern early on about the impact the order could arguably have down the road, "If we can bring that to attention and express concern about it at the earliest possible moment it can potentially avoid a situation where those rights are actually infringed on,” St. Lawrence said.

In their letter attorneys also expressed thanks to the county officials for their efforts thus far, "All the work that has been done to protect the citizens of Kern County is much appreciated and the countless hours recognized. However we implore you to also protect our constitutional rights."

The letter is also signed by at least 21 residents of the county.