CHiPs Are Down in California, and Federal Judge Is Down With It

From 1977 to 1983 on the television crime drama series “CHiPs,” Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox played California Highway Patrol officers patrolling the freeways on motorcycles in pursuit of criminals. Some of that still goes on in real life, but now the CHP also patrols the California Capitol to keep non-criminals from holding public protests. 

On May 1, thousands of protesters showed up to protest Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lockdown order that had pronounced them unessential and taken away their jobs and livelihood. The protest was peaceful, but the black-clad CHP officers, in full riot gear, arrested 32 protesters and cited them for creating a public health hazard. The CHP ban on Capitol protests remained in place, but the people kept showing up. On May 7, as the Sacramento Bee explained, the protesters arrived “to find the CHP had ringed the west side of the Capitol property with steel gates and posted hundreds of officers around the perimeter to ensure they could not advance beyond the 10th Street sidewalk.” The CHP made no arrests, but the protesters decried an infringement of their free-speech rights. Federal judge John Mendez sided with the cops and the governor.

In his ruling, Judge Mendez invoked the World Health Organization, with no explanation of WHO misinformation that abetted the spread of the coronavirus. Judge Mendez cites Gov. Newsom’s stay-at-home order, which bans “all gatherings” of any size in any “indoor or outdoor space,” and “applies to all non-essential professional, social, and community gatherings regardless of their sponsor,” all until further notice. “Admittedly,” Mendez writes, “a blanket ban on the issuance of CHP permits for an unspecified period does not intuitively ring of narrow tailoring.” On the other hand, “the evidence before this court clearly demonstrates that in-person gatherings increase the spread of COVID-19,” and “this is true even when people attempt to comply with the CDC’s recommendations.” 

The CDC is the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which failed to prevent the coronavirus from arriving in the United States, and did a poor job controlling the spread. The protesters do not vote for the CDC, the WHO, or Judge Mendez his own self. As the George W. Bush appointee writes, the stay-at-home order is “burdening and even devastating to many” but “our willingness to rise to the challenge posed by that order is a true measure of our humanity.” 

Judge Mendez does note the mandate to “guard with firmness every right appertaining to life, liberty, or property as secured by the supreme law of the land.” If the protesters though the Bush appointee was a failure in that task it would be hard to blame them. Judge Mendez has also ruled that Gov. Newsom’s ban on church gatherings is a valid exercise of emergency police powers and not a violation of constitutional rights.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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