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In court, Maryland defends stay-at-home order as crucial for public health

Critics of Gov. Larry Hogan's stay-at-home order, including the "Reopen Maryland" group that has organized two demonstrations, filed a federal lawsuit. The state's lawyers responded Friday night saying the order is a temporary legal way to protect public health.
Critics of Gov. Larry Hogan's stay-at-home order, including the "Reopen Maryland" group that has organized two demonstrations, filed a federal lawsuit. The state's lawyers responded Friday night saying the order is a temporary legal way to protect public health.(Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

Maryland’s top lawyer offered a legal defense for Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order in a court filing Friday night, calling it a temporary measure that is likely saving the lives of the state’s residents.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and a team of lawyers from his office wrote in a federal court filing that critics who sued to temporarily halt the order misunderstood its provisions and failed to mount a sufficient legal argument against them.

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They argued that Hogan has enacted temporary measures to promote public health and limit the spread of the coronavirus that has killed more than 1,500 Marylanders. The stay-at-home order, issued March 30, keeps many businesses closed, continues a prohibition on large gatherings and restricts residents’ travel to essential trips such as getting food or seeking medical care.

Last weekend, a group sued the state in U.S. District Court in Baltimore and asked for a temporary restraining order to halt enforcement of the governor’s order.

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The group includes Republican state lawmakers, pastors, owners of two Western Maryland businesses, military veterans and the “Reopen Maryland” group that has formed in recent weeks.

They claimed that the stay-at-home order has infringed on their Constitutional rights to free speech and exercise of religion, harmed businesses and diminished their quality of life.

The state’s lawyers wrote, however, that limiting contact between individuals by closing many businesses and requiring masks inside stores that remain open is “a rational and justified policy response to a public health threat” that spreads through close contact.

The Republican governor has consulted a team of public health and business experts, considered guidance from the federal government and outlined an eventual plan for easing the restrictions, Frosh and his team noted.

In making his decisions, Hogan has acted within the bounds of state law that grants the governor broad powers to act in the interest of public health during a state of emergency, the state’s lawyers wrote.

“To emergently combat a virulently infectious disease in a pandemic, the State must be able to take swift and decisive action,” the state’s lawyers wrote.

The state’s lawyers argue that the lawsuit is not likely to succeed if it moves forward, and notes that several legal challenges in other states already have failed. In addition to opposing the temporary restraining order, they also filed a motion to dismiss the case.

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