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U.S. Department of Justice’s statement in Hawaii quarantine lawsuit tossed

A federal judge in Honolulu said she will “disregard” the U.S. Department of Justice’s statement in support of a lawsuit challenging Hawaii’s 14-day self-quarantine imposed on arriving travelers in an attempt to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.

The Justice Department’s statement said the quarantine discriminates against out-of-state travelers, even though it applies to both visitors and returning residents.

Four people living in Hawaii, California and Nevada filed a lawsuit June 15 that says the quarantine is unfair and unnecessary. They include three nonresidents who live on the mainland but own property on Maui, Hawaii island and Oahu, and a Hawaii resident who wants to visit her grandmother with dementia on the mainland but can’t afford to take 14 days off work upon her return.

In an order issued late Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Jill Otake said she will disregard the Justice Department’s statement when deciding whether to issue a temporary restraining order against the quarantine. The statement amounts to an attempt by the Justice Department to amend the lawsuit in a case where it is not a plaintiff, said Otake, who was appointed to the bench by President Donald Trump.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced in April the Justice Department would scrutinize state and local lockdown measures aimed at containing COVID-19. In a statement Thursday, the Justice Department said it was “duty-bound to defend the Constitutional rights of all people in our nation, and we will continue to do so. These rights include the right of citizens to travel freely anywhere in our country.”

Hawaii’s quarantine on trans-Pacific arrivals runs through July 31 and is expected to be extended. However, on Wednesday, Gov. David Ige announced that starting Aug. 1, travelers will be able to bypass the quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their trip to Hawaii. Details of the new testing program are still pending.

Otake on Thursday asked the plaintiffs to address the impact of Ige’s testing program on their claims.

Lloyd Hochberg Jr., a Honolulu lawyer who represents Holly Carmichael, Brooke McGowan, Timothy Carmichael and Russell Hirsch, said they did not have anything to do with the Department of Justice’s involvement in their complaint and declined to comment on the judge’s order.

Plaintiffs in a separate but similar lawsuit dropped their case Thursday.

The Hawaii Department of the Attorney General called Otake’s decision to disregard the Justice Department’s statement of interest in the lawsuit “(a positive development) in the state’s defense of the governor’s emergency proclamations.”

The state agency said the measures “were properly and lawfully issued and have been critical to protecting Hawaii from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A hearing on plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order is set for 11 a.m. Thursday before Otake in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

Hawaii is not the only state with a 14-day quarantine. This week New York, Connecticut and New Jersey asked travelers from states with high coronavirus infection rates to self-quarantine for 14 days to keep the spread of the virus under control, the Associated Press reported.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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