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Local restaurant defies DC emergency powers, putting Home Rule under scrutiny

A A specialty burger shop and pub in Washington, DC, is suing the city’s health department, alleging it exceeded its authority by closing the restaurant earlier this year after repeated violations of the district’s immunization mandate.

The Big Board filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Thursday, arguing that the department and city government overstepped by issuing emergency orders earlier this year that required businesses in the district to check clients’ vaccination statuses before allowing them entry. The restaurant refused to comply with the mandates, leading to heavy fines and a forced closure that lasted several weeks – even after the city’s vaccination mandate expired.

RESTAURANT CLOSED FOR VIOLATION OF CITYWIDE VACCINE MANDATE SUES DC HEALTH DEPARTMENT

“We are asking for a statement that the underlying orders were unlawful. … Yes, the pandemic, according to Biden, is now officially in the rearview mirror, but what will happen the next time there is an emergency? ” Robert Alt, president and CEO of the Buckeye Institute and attorney representing the Big Board in court, told the Washington Examiner. “I think there would be an opportunity here for a DC committee to exercise oversight over what happened in this case.”

The lawsuit takes aim at the city government’s use of the emergency legislation, arguing that it “violated federal law governing the power of the District of Columbia to pass ordinances and other laws” through the DC Home Rule Act. Under the rule, the city is authorized to pass laws through the city council with the caveat that each law is subject to congressional approval, placing the district under congressional control for each of its local mandates.

However, local lawmakers are allowed to pass emergency legislation that is in effect for up to 90 days without congressional approval. Washington lawmakers passed the vaccination mandate for local businesses under this emergency rule, prompting arguments from the Big Board that it violated the Constitution by evading oversight and mocking congressional scrutiny. .

“By piling up emergency acts and orders for two years, the district has evaded congressional scrutiny and closed the courthouse doors to Mr. Flannery and thousands of other DC residents,” said declared Alt. “This end circumventing the Home Rule Act made a mockery of congressional scrutiny and simultaneously deprived Americans of their constitutional rights and due process.”

The DC Home Rule Act has provided city government with a sense of legislative autonomy since it was passed in 1973. However, the law has come under scrutiny in recent months, with some Republicans suggesting remove the provision altogether — hinting it could be on some lawmakers’ agendas if the GOP wins control of Congress in November.

Representative Andrew Clyde (R-GA) has indicated his intention to propose legislation to eliminate DC Home Rule, bringing the district under Congressional control.

“Mayor Bowser’s decision to impose draconian mandates and shut down Big Board for failing to follow unscientific and unconstitutional rules is a perfect illustration of both how DC Home Rule abuses have gone too far and why Congress must act. quickly to return our capital to America’s people,” Clyde told the Washington Examiner. “I applaud Eric Flannery’s fight against DC Home Rule and Mayor Bowser’s medical tyranny, and I remain committed to repealing the Home Rule Act to prevent the failing leadership of DC Democrats from further encroaching on the freedoms of residents, visitors and small businesses.”

However, it’s unclear whether a ruling in favor of the Big Board would necessarily pave the way for the repeal of Washington’s self-government, legal experts say.

“My sense is that this lawsuit actually has relatively minor implications for DC’s Home Rule powers, the reason being that the challenge is how the district has used emergency powers,” said researcher GianCarlo Canaparo. principal at the Heritage Foundation. “So a win here would essentially mean the DC government abused its emergency powers, but it wouldn’t otherwise undermine the Home Rule Act.”

But it could prompt Congress to consider changing the Home Rule Act to limit some of its power, Canaparo said.

“A victory here forces the court to say that DC abused its emergency powers under the Home Rule Act,” he said. “That’s a good reason for Congress to consider changing the Home Rule Act, perhaps to limit those emergency powers, because DC has shown it can’t be trusted.”

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It’s unclear whether a bill proposing to limit DC’s autonomy would pass Congress, though it’s likely to be voted down by Democrats. Representative Eleanor Norton, who represents the district in the House, has pledged to fight such efforts.

“Rep. Clyde clearly wants the federal government to take over the management of DC as a colony,” Norton said in a statement earlier this year. “He wants to take away even the limited autonomy that DC’s roughly 700,000 residents, the majority of whom are minorities, have had for the past 50 years and give Congress and, presumably, congressional-appointed trustees or the president , day by day. direct current control »

Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera