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Justice Alito Supreme Court Called “restrictions Previously Unimaginable On Individual Freedom ‘covid Lockdowns

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U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito said the policies seen during the coronavirus pandemic inspired “previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty” during a speech delivered at the Federalist Society’s annual National Lawyers Convention on Thursday.

Alito bookended his statement by saying he was not passing judgment on the legality of restrictions imposed across the country and said he did not want his comments to be misinterpreted.

“The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty,” Alito said. “Now, notice what I am not saying or even implying: I am not diminishing the severity of the virus’ threat to public health, and putting aside what I will say shortly about a few Supreme Court cases, I’m not saying anything about the legality of COVID restrictions. Nor am I saying anything about whether any of these restrictions represent good public policy. I’m a judge, not a policymaker.

“All that I’m saying is this, and I think it’s an indisputable statement of fact: We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020.”

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito testifies about the court’s budget during a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee March 7, 2019, in Washington, D.C. On Thursday, Alito delivered what many interpreted as a highly partisan speech during the Federalist Society’s annual National Lawyers Convention.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Alito became one of the high court’s more conservative justices after former President George W. Bush appointed him in 2006. The Federalist Society, an organization that encourages an originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, has invited Alito to deliver remarks at its annual convention in the past, but Thursday’s speech struck many as particularly partisan.

After discussing the pandemic, Alito also touched upon marriage equality, birth control, religious freedom and executive authority in government—each of which he spoke critically of in reference to specific court cases. His comments triggered critical reactions from civil rights activists and lawyers who questioned how openly he weighed in on sensitive cultural touchstones.

“Last night, Justice Alito shed any pretense of impartiality in a politically charged speech, again attacking the Obergefell decision,” tweeted Alfonso David, the president of the LGBTQ civil rights organization Human Rights Campaign. Obergefell v. Hodges was the 2015 Supreme Court case that granted same-sex couples the right to marriage. “Justice Alito: our love and our marriages are valid. There is no tension between full equality and religious liberty.”

Demand Justice, an organization aimed at bringing reform to the Supreme Court, called Alito’s speech “hyper-partisan” in a tweet on Friday morning. “Justice Samuel Alito showed he can’t be trusted to put the law ahead of his partisan politics,” the group said.

A speechwriter for former President Barack Obama also suggested that Alito’s comments were made in the style of a “political pundit” and said Alito should “quit his day job” if he wanted to continue making such statements.

Alito delivered his speech less than a week after several major networks declared Joe Biden the victor of the presidential race. While President Donald Trump has been resistant toward COVID-19 restrictions, President-elect Biden has said he would rely on the advice of scientists in determining the best path forward through the pandemic—another tendency that Alito frowned upon.

“The COVID crisis has served as—and in doing so, it has highlighted disturbing trends that were already present before the virus struck,” Alito said. “One of these is the dominance of lawmaking by executive fiat rather than legislation,” a tendency he said began during the New Deal era.

“The vision of early 20th century progressives and the New Dealers of the 1930s was the policy making would shift from narrow-minded elected legislators to an elite group of appointed experts. In a word, that policy making would become more scientific. That dream has been realized to a large extent.

“Every year, administrative agencies acting on their broad delegations of authority churn out huge volumes of regulations that dwarf the statutes enacted by the people’s elected representatives. And what have we seen in the pandemic? Sweeping restrictions imposed, for the most part, under statutes that confer enormous executive discretion.”

Newsweek reached out to Biden’s transition team for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

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