New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, has become the epicenter of constitutional violations. Governor Cuomo and New York City Mayor de Blasio have led this charge, issuing executive orders that plainly violate civil liberties protected by the U.S. Constitution.
The American Freedom Law Center is fighting back! We filed two civil rights lawsuits in New York. The first lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, challenges the executive orders restricting the rights to freedom of speech and to peaceably assemble in New York.
We filed this lawsuit on behalf of Pamela Geller, a political activist who wants to organize a peaceful, public protest outside of City Hall against de Blasio and his dictatorial policies. Cuomo’s and de Blasio’s executive orders prohibit this exercise of the First Amendment.
The Governor and the Mayor have threatened arrest and criminal penalties if you exercise these fundamental rights in violation of their executive orders, unless you are protesting as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Both Cuomo and de Blasio have not only publicly endorsed these protests in statements posted on their official, government websites, but they have participated in them in violation of their own executive orders.
Below, for example, is photographic evidence presented to the court showing Mayor de Blasio participating in a Black Lives Matter protest in the City in violation of the executive orders. The Mayor is painting a “Black Lives Matter” mural on the public street outside of Trump Tower.
Remarkably, the district court judge denied our motion for an emergency injunction, making the patently false claim that “because the Executive Order prohibits non-essential outdoor gatherings . . . regardless of the messages expressed, the Court has no difficulty in concluding. . . that the restriction was enacted to protect the public health and bears a real and substantial relation to the public safety concerns at issue.” As a result, we filed an immediate appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and an emergency injunction pending appeal.
In our second lawsuit against Governor Cuomo, we are challenging his Executive Order 205, which requires all persons who travel to New York from certain “restricted” states to quarantine under onerous conditions for 14 days upon arrival in the State. A violation of the order could result in criminal and civil penalties, including a civil penalty of up to $10,000.
This lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York on behalf of Cynthia Page, a resident of Arizona who had to cancel her travel plans to New York due to the Governor’s order.
As stated by the U.S. Supreme Court, “The right to travel is a virtually unconditional personal right, guaranteed by the Constitution to us all.” This fundamental right is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and by the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
In this case, the lower court also denied our motion for an emergency injunction, holding that while this restriction burdens a fundamental right, the current public health crisis grants the Governor authority to suspend constitutional rights as he deems necessary. In other words, the courts are surrendering.
We immediately appealed the decision to the Second Circuit and filed an emergency motion pending appeal. We also recently filed a request with the court of appeals to supplement the record with new evidence: evidence showing that the Governor has provided an exception to his travel restriction for the celebrities that will be participating in the MTV music video awards in New York.
The appeals in both cases are still pending in the Second Circuit.
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi commented:
“Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio are classic examples of what happens when petty ideologues are handed the reins of power unattended by constitutional restraints. What we’re seeing in the courts are men and women in black robes cowering in fear of a pandemic and underwriting this lawlessness. This is reminiscent of the shameful judicial decisions rendered during past crises. Recall it was the courts that sanctioned the internment of Japanese Americans out of naked fear during WW II. AFLC’s mission is to resist this cowardice now and to lay the groundwork for judicial repentance.”
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise added:
“Benjamin Franklin famously stated, ‘Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’ Our courts, which are supposed to be the guardians of the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution, have surrendered to these petty tyrants masquerading as mayors and governors. Their cowardice is leaving us with neither liberty nor safety. But the fight is far from over.”