The ACLU says that Puerto Rico’s curfew is vague, leaving too much open to interpretation.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is seeking an injunction against Puerto Rico’s strict curfew, intended to combat the spread of coronavirus on the island.
According to The Seattle Times, the curfew was imposed on March 15th. Since then, all non-essential businesses in the U.S. territory have been ordered to cease operations. And Puerto Rico, unlike most parts of the American mainland, has ordered its residents to stay home between 7pm and 5am each and every day. During the day, people are allowed to go out only to purchase groceries, go to the bank, or seek medical care.
Violators, adds the Times, can face fines up $5,000 or six months in jail. Police have already issued hundreds of citations.
But the ACLU says that Puerto Rico’s restrictions are draconian—so much so, in fact, that the island would have to declare martial law to validate what it’s doing.
“There’s been no martial law declared, and there are no circumstances for it,” the ACLU wrote in its request for an injunction. “As such, emergency states cannot be used to suspend fundamental rights.”
The Seattle Times notes that this lawsuit is the first the ACLU has filed in relation to coronavirus curfews. But the non-profit has pledged to keep a close eye on emergency powers throughout the pandemic response.
Right now, Puerto Rico is struggling to keep its administration afloat. The Hill reports that hundreds of the island’s 10,000-strong police force is under quarantine. Those remaining are operating on a severely restricted budget, with departments unable to afford cell phones or protect patrol cars from looters.
“History teaches that our government is most prone to committing abuses in times of crisis, and we must ensure that broad presidential powers are not misused beyond legitimate needs,” the ACLU said.
The lawsuit, adds the Times, was filed on behalf of three Puerto Rico residents. All of them allege that the curfew’s language is unclear—leading them to fear arrest when they leave the house to perform critical duties, such as caring for elderly relatives. Despite Puerto Rico permitting people to leave home for health-related reasons, the ACLU claims that the order is overly vague and gives police too much power to figure in their own interpretations.
“The [executive] orders pretends that constitutional rights be handed over blindly to the government, and that is unacceptable,” the lawsuit says. “The government cannot interfere with who you interact with within your home or define your family nucleus.”