New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is threatening to sue Rhode Island for its effort to stop cars with New York license plates to be sure that New Yorkers quarantine for two weeks. This includes police going door-to-door. Apparently, the image of some guy with a bell crying “bring out your New Yorkers” in the streets is not appealing to Cuomo. Yet, this could present a knotty legal issue.
The Supreme Court has long recognized a right to travel and movement as a core constitutional right under the Privileges and Immunities Clause. In 1869, the Supreme Court declared in Paul v. Virginia that citizens have the “right of free ingress into other States, and egress from them.”
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo announced the plan last week to try to prevent the spread of the virus from the hot zone of the Empire State. Cuomo is irate and declared “there’s a point of absurdity, and I think what Rhode Island did is at that point of absurdity.”
Raimondo is not backing down: “I want to be crystal clear about this: If you’re coming to Rhode Island from New York you are ordered into quarantine. The reason for that is because more than half of the cases of coronavirus in America are in New York.”
However, she recently expanded the policy to include all out of state cars. This may be in anticipation of such a lawsuit to show that she is not singling out citizens of one state for greater scrutiny. Of course saying that you will also stop an occasional car from Arkansas may not be much solace for Cuomo or his fellow New Yorkers.
The fact that this is a monitoring regulation for public health in a pandemic may give Rhode Island an upper hand. Stopping travel to the state would create serious constitutional questions on the restriction of the right to travel as well as interstate commerce issues. However, in a pandemic, courts tend to be deference — at least in the short term — toward state efforts to control the spread of a deadly virus.
In the meantime, some are taking measures into their own hands. A group of armed men recently cut down a tree across the driveway of a suspected New Yorkers to confine them to her home on an island in Maine.
Of course, this is not the first time Rhode Island has declared New Yorkers a public menace: