Ms. Warburton, (Secretary to the US Attorney District of Wyoming)
Please express my thanks to Mr. Klassen [United States Attorney District of Wyoming] for his letter (see below). He states that he gave our complaints serious thought, and I can tell from this thoughtful, articulate letter that he did that indeed. Please kindly forward the message below to him.
Reading the letter, and looking at this situation as objectively as I can from the perspective of someone who is not an attorney, I’d say that Mr. Klassen describes a broad but as yet legally undefined borderline between the right of local and state governments to impose orders purportedly aimed at protecting the common good, and the unquestionable constitutional rights of individual citizens to earn their livelihoods and live their lives. In essence, these are my differences with the County. I see the Constitution as supreme when weighing all the considerations. The County believes that under state statutory authority, government may “take” away livelihoods, in the interests of protecting community health. Applying Mr. Klassen’s term, I would say that it has acted oppressively because it acted unconditionally. Having a movable expiration date does not relieve the label of unconditional. This is “diktat”, and not constitutional.
In my view, oppression comes about when government forces every person to abandon normal life and livelihood for a lengthy period of time, without compensation or a reasonably easy right of appeal (which I would define by my ability to appeal without the need to hire an attorney). Does County government need transparently to predefine or explain a change in conditions which will lead to lifting the order? Apparently it does not think so. May a blanket quarantine order, affecting every person without regard to infection, be issued legitimately? An order without geographical exceptions for those areas where people are isolated, or live in areas without infections, or without consideration of one’s line of business? What rationale classifies one activity or business as deserving special treatment, and another as undeserving? Why are business owners and customers not given the choice to develop their own protocols and protections? Why are they not given the choice to go out to work or to patronize a business, or to stay home, as they wish? The County does not give us any alternatives in its Order. In fact, through Ms. Wiseman’s office as their attorney, it refuses even now to answer basic (and respectfully asked) questions. From the start, County government clearly has felt no obligation or pressure to provide any answers. It feels none today. The order, their decree, is their law. Citizens’ rights are not even a consideration in their minds – case closed.
Lacking more specific guidance from litigation outcomes (which may be a while coming), it looks to me as though Mr. Jones and I should try again to meet with Ms. Wiseman (and any of her county government clients she wishes to invite), in hopes to work out clearer principles we might agree on to apply to the scope of a future health order in the event of a second outbreak of this disease. The lockdown that brought about objections from Mr. Jones and me initially took place in an environment of uncertainty with respect to the severity of the disease, its penetration within Teton County and surrounding areas, its infectiousness and lethality. Looking back on it today, I’d describe the initial panicked reaction of health authorities as justified – they did not know, we did not know. But as time passed, we quickly knew much more. The predictions did not come true, the hospitalizations did not occur, the mortality as percent of the population has been tiny. Yet there were no explanations from the county. We were told, in so many words, that government has proclaimed and that’s the end of it. Diktat.
The decision of one official, backed by the power of Ms. Weisman’s office, deprived an entire county of its citizens’ ability to live their lives. To this day, there is one check on that official’s order: the decision of that same official. No avenues of counterargument, protest, challenge, appeal exist. No self-imposed obligations or promises to explain anything on an ongoing basis exist on the part of the County. While I do not speak for Mr. Jones, I suspect he would agree with me that what has occurred in Teton County is not tolerable in a country whose supreme law is the US Constitution. My greatest fear today is that we will be forced to endure diktat again.
If Ms. Weisman will agree to meet with us, she now knows the what will be basis of our conversation with her.
I greatly appreciate Mr. Klassen’s thoughtful response to us. I will advise your of any future developments of consequence.
Thank you very much.