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State Sen. Michael Testa. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

NJ GOP suit seeks to end business closures

Republican State Committee claims Murphy’s executive orders violate NJ constitution

By Nikita Biryukov, May 21 2020 1:22 pm

The New Jersey Republican State Committee is suing Gov. Phil Murphy and members of his administration in an effort to force the state to allow non-essential businesses to reopen.

“We’re challenging the constitutionality of the governor’s executive orders and the overreach of his executive authority,” Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt said. “Instead of being guided by science, the governor chooses to hide behind it. He’s closed his eyes and ears and ignored New Jersey’s cries for common sense.”

The three-count suit, filed in Cape May County Superior Court, claims executive orders deprived residents of equal protection clause of the state constitution and deprived residence of due process provided by the same.

It also seeks to prevent further orders that would impose similar restrictions.

“When you classify businesses as essential and non-essential, what you have here, you turn the right to private property into a privilege,” Steinhardt said. “And when you do that arbitrarily and capriciously, you create the situation you have here in New Jersey, where your neighbor can earn a living simply because of where she works or for whom, and you can’t.”

State Sen. Michael Testa (R-Vineland) and Republican State Committee general counsel Michael Lavery have been tapped to argue the case.

While Murphy recently allowed most non-essential businesses to operate via curbside pickup, businesses that require close contact between employees and patrons — salons, barbershops and gyms to name a few — have not been allowed to open.

Personal care businesses would open in a limited capacity under stage two of that plan, though there’s been no indication on when New Jersey will move past the first stage of reopening.

“The problem that we have is that the governor continues to keep moving the goal line,” Steinhardt said. “As the senator alluded earlier and we’re all aware, it was ‘flatten the curve, flatten the curve best flatten the curve.’ Now, all of a sudden, it’s ‘the economy won’t reopen until we have a vaccine.’ We don’t know when that may be. That may never be.”

Murphy’s plan does not envision a return to normalcy until after a vaccine is developed for the novel coronavirus, though most business would be allowed to operate under significant restrictions in the plan’s third stage.

The Republicans stressed that the suit was not a call for New Jerseyans to defy Murphy’s orders, as owners of a Bellmawr gym did for three days this week.

“I would say that they should abide by the executive orders because otherwise they’re placing themselves at risk,” Testa said. “I’ll use a hotel as an example. If a hotel is going to open up, then god forbid someone does in fact contract the coronavirus there and suffers from very real damages from that, I would doubt that their insurance company would provide them any coverage, and they would be in violation of an executive order.”

The senator also warned that persons who defy the order could face legal charges.

The owners of Atilis Gym have thrice been charged with an executive order violation — as have some of their patrons. They also face a public nuisance charge.

“The complaint that’s being filed is not to encourage lawlessness by any stretch of the imagination,” Steinhardt said. “Quite the contrary, its purpose, at least from the perspective of the plaintiffs, is to define and apply and enforce the law from the perspective that we understand it to be, which is that every New Jersey resident is entitled to equal protection and equal treatment under it.”

Steinhardt, who is a possible candidate for the GOP nomination for governor in 2021, referred to earlier statements by Murphy about the Bill of Rights.

“The Bill of Rights might be above the governor’s pay grade, but it’s not above ours,” he said.

In a fundraising solicitation this afternoon, Steinhardt said that Murphy “has irreparably harmed our state, our home, by arbitrarily declaring some businesses, workers, and individuals essential and others non-essential.”

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