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Attorney General William Barr compares COVID-19 lockdowns to slavery

He also believes the response to the pandemic should be guided by elected officials and politicians rather than scientists and medical professionals.

Bill Barr Getty Images

Attorney General William Barr is facing backlash after he compared the recent Coronavirus lockdown to slavery.

Barr made the comments on Wednesday (Sep. 16) during the Constitution Day celebration in Michigan after he was asked about the the Coronavirus restrictions against churchgoers. “You know, putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest. It’s — you know, other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” he said.

Barr then suggested that scientists and medical professionals should not handle the federal response to the pandemic. “The person in the white coat is not the ‘grand seer’ who can come up with a right decision for society. A free people makes its decision through its elected representative,” he said.

Democratic South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn condemned Barr’s comments. “I think that that statement by Mr. Barr was the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful thing I’ve ever heard,” he said. “It is incredible, as chief law enforcement officer in this country, to equate human bondage to expert advice to save lives. Slavery was not about saving lives. It was about devaluing lives.”

Republican lawmakers, however, offered mixed reviews about Barr’s comments. “That’s not the analogy I would use,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said. “I think what he’s trying to say is that the country has — you know, it’s been tough. We’ve had to shelter in place and our lifestyle has changed dramatically. But, no, I would not compare it to slavery. Probably the only thing to compare it to would be 1918.”

Texas Sen. John Cornyn said that he wouldn't not have used those exact words, but believed the lockdowns have been made at random. “Any time you talk about slavery, it’s going to be inflammatory,” he said “I think some of the lockdowns have been arbitrary and inconsistent, and I think there are civil liberties concerns. I share some of those concerns. But I probably would not use those words. I would not use those words.”

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