Border Checkpoints Discourage Travelers Between States

By: - April 8, 2020 12:00 am

Texas Department of Public Safety officers check motorists at a checkpoint in Orange, Texas, near the Louisiana state border, to determine if they need to self-quarantine. Several states have set up checkpoints in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. David J. Phillip/The Associated Press

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

Americans have long held the open road as integral to their freedom. But with the coronavirus pandemic, the once unthinkable has begun to happen: States have set up checkpoints to discourage other states’ residents from crossing their borders.

Texas, Delaware, Florida and Rhode Island are stopping drivers with out-of-state license plates and ordering them to quarantine for two weeks, if they intend to stay in the state. Those entering the state for “essential” business reasons, such as commercial traffic, appear to be exempt.

Constitutionally, states cannot prohibit residents of another state from entering, but they can require quarantines or statements of purpose.

The coronavirus has prompted actions that were inconceivable mere weeks ago: States discouraging out-of-state tourists and the revenue they bring, governors warning their residents not to travel to neighboring states and law enforcement screening drivers at state borders.

Civil rights advocates have questioned the focus on travelers from other states.

“A two-week quarantine solely for the ‘offense’ of coming from out of state, and with no opportunity to contest this demand, is deeply troubling,” Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU in Rhode Island, said in a statement. “In addition, targeting out-of-staters like this can only promote a divisive ‘us vs. them’ mentality that encourages vilification of others.”

Cam Winton, an attorney with the Minneapolis law firm Dorsey and Whitney who has been advising clients on dealing with state-imposed coronavirus rules, said stopping cars from other states at the border has constitutional problems. He speculated that there might not be legal challenges to the rules as the country fights the virus, but if the stoppages go on for many weeks, successful suits could be filed.

“If somebody wanted to challenge any of these state-by-state orders … they would go to court and say [the orders] run up against my federal constitutional rights by putting an undue burden on interstate commerce,” he said in a phone interview. Another problem involves citizens of one state having the same rights and privileges as citizens of another state under Article IV, he said.

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Elaine S. Povich
Elaine S. Povich

Elaine S. Povich covers education and consumer affairs for Stateline. Povich has reported for Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and United Press International.