A federal judge denied a preliminary motion in a lawsuit seeking to strike down Maine’s 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors, issuing the order just hours after the U.S. Department of Justice threw its weight behind the plaintiffs and called the rule unconstitutional.

The owners of two campgrounds and two restaurants sued Maine Gov. Janet Mills over that rule this month. Two New Hampshire residents who want to camp in Maine also joined the complaint. Theirs is one of three separate federal lawsuits – a group of nine businesses and a church in Bangor also have filed complaints – over various aspects of the governor’s reopening plan.

In this case, the plaintiffs argue that the quarantine requirement is an unconstitutional restriction on people’s right to travel freely from state to state. They filed a motion this month seeking for a preliminary injunction that would block Mills from implementing her reopening plan while the lawsuit moves forward.

U.S. District Judge Lance Walker denied that motion Friday, allowing the rule to stand while the lawsuit proceeds. He said the plaintiffs have not proved that they are likely to succeed in the end.

“Furthermore, irreparable injury is, at this time, only suggested, though it is no doubt mounting,” Walker wrote.

His order came just hours after the Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the case Friday. That brief supported the plaintiffs and said the state’s rule is likely unconstitutional.

“Here, Maine likely has transgressed the Constitution’s limits by discriminating between Maine residents and out-of-state residents with respect to the ability to patronize campgrounds and RV parks within the state,” the brief says. “Residents from outside Maine must self-quarantine for 14 days before they can enjoy these facilities, while Mainers who have not ventured outside the state may frequent them at any time.”

Mills fired back in a joint statement issued Friday with Attorney General Aaron Frey, saying she is “disgusted” by the Department of Justice’s filing. Mills and Frey said the quarantine requirement is legal and necessary to protect the health of Maine citizens.

“My administration has long said that we are working hard to find an alternative to that quarantine, and we are continuing that effort every day,” Mills said. “I am deeply disappointed – and frankly disgusted – that the U.S Department of Justice is making a concerted effort to undermine the health of the people of Maine – objections they never raised when the president and his own task force took steps to limit travel. It seems to me that their only actual ‘interest’ here is, at best, political or, at worst, to harm Mainers, not defend them.”

A spokesman for the Maine Attorney General’s Office said Friday that they did not have any additional comment on Walker’s ruling.

In a footnote, Walker indicated that he did review the justice department’s brief as part of his decision.

“Plaintiffs advance a civil rights action that has potential,” Walker wrote in his 28-page order. “Their case pits a prudent fear of a possible explosion of infection against a competing ethic best described as the indomitable human desire to enjoy individual liberty and pursue one’s life and livelihood notwithstanding the sort of repercussions that keep epidemiologists and practitioners of the precautionary principle awake at night.

“Where the tipping point lies between these opposing values cannot be drawn with a bright line, but presumably there comes a time when prudent fears give way to the hopeful spirit that informs our migratory nature and the fair-mindedness that presumptively guides the application of police power.”

The plaintiffs are Bayley’s Camping Resort in Scarborough and Little Ossipee Lake Campground in Waterboro, as well as the owner of two restaurants patronized primarily by those staying at Bayley’s.

The governor’s reopening plan extended the quarantine through at least July. USA Today reported this week that at least 19 other states required or recommended a 14-day quarantine for some visitors. Some, like Vermont and Massachusetts, extended that order to all visitors. Others, like Florida and Kansas, limited it to visitors coming from states with high infection rates, like New York. It was not clear Friday if any other states are facing legal challenges over those rules.

The Department of Justice wrote in the brief that the governor could be less restrictive while still protecting public health.

“It is unclear why the governor requires every out-of-state resident to self-quarantine for 14 days before patronizing plaintiffs’ campgrounds,” the brief says. “Had Maine imposed such a burden only on residents from COVID-19 hot spots, such as New York City, this might be a different case. But Maine requires travelers from every corner of the union to quarantine themselves upon arrival, even if they hail from jurisdictions (such as nearby Vermont) that have fewer confirmed cases of COVID-19 – either as an absolute matter or per capita – than Maine does.”

The Maine Attorney General’s Office filed a brief this month on behalf of the state. It emphasized the swell of visitors that come to Maine every summer and said the order does not ban travel into or from the state.

“Maine has a population of just 1.3 million residents,” the state argues. “Last summer there were 22.1 million non-resident visits, with over half of those visits coming from states where infection rates are much higher than in Maine. Recognizing the need to control the virus and protect our residents, Maine’s governor, through a carefully calibrated process and in close consultation with government officials and public health experts, has issued a series of executive orders pursuant to her authority under state law.”

The state’s response also included supporting affidavits from the head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the governor’s chief legal counsel.

“Moreover, at the time the quarantine requirement was issued, and continuing to this day, nearby states, including Massachusetts and New York, had much higher infection rates than Maine’s,” CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah wrote. “Our concern was that people in those states would travel to Maine and unknowingly infect people here, thus further increasing the spread of the virus and the number of COVID-19 cases in Maine.

“Under that scenario, the capacity of Maine’s existing health care system to provide care for individual patients could potentially be exceeded.”

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