We are tracking all developments relating to civil liberties in West Virginia and the government’s use of emergency declarations related to the COVID-19 global pandemic. This list will be updated regularly to reflect new developments. Please continue to check back.
The spread of COVID-19 is unprecedented, and it will take many of us working together and utilizing our collective expertise to respond appropriately, effectively, and fairly. ACLU-WV will be monitoring the situation to ensure a response that is scientifically justified and no more intrusive upon civil liberties than absolutely necessary.
If you have an emergency request for legal assistance that requires immediate attention, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will also provide guidance to our elected officials on crafting a response that protects directly impacted individuals, including:
Children who are home because their school has closed are still deserving of an education. All students must have equal access to an education, regardless of whether they have access to the Internet or other resources.
Immigrants and People of Color
Medical providers should not be inquiring about immigration status when administering testing or treatment for COVID-19. Public health depends on people getting tested and taking the proper steps if infected. If people fear detention or deportation could result from seeking medical care, then they are much less likely to seek testing and treatment.
In addition, all elderly and immunocompromised individuals in ICE custody should be released on personal recognizance immediately so that they can shelter in place, as health experts recommend. There is no reason to keep vulnerable people in unsanitary and crowded detention centers during this crisis.
Likewise, we must resist and call out any efforts to scapegoat certain groups of people for this illness. Viruses do not see race or ethnicity. There are already multiple reported instances of Asian Americans and Asian people living in other countries experiencing racism and even violence.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals must issue a directive to magistrates to put a moratorium on eviction actions, both new and pending, for the duration of the pandemic.
A moratorium will protect the homes of West Virginian renters, including the elderly and immunocompromised. The last thing that West Virginians should face during this crisis are crowded courtroom appearances or the threat of homelessness.
Voters and Our Democracy
The governor should call a special session of the West Virginia Legislature to approve no-excuse absentee voting by mail for all West Virginia voters. We cannot allow our democracy to suffer any more than it already has because of this virus. There is no reason to postpone our elections when so many states have already implemented voting by mail for all.
We must support people who cannot afford to miss work or who lack paid sick leave. All of us face risk if people hide their condition and go to work because they can't afford not to. The government must work with employers to ensure all workers are supported in voluntarily staying home when sick, as health experts recommend.
People locked up in jails ad prisons are among the most marginalized in our society, and right now they are some of the most vulnerable to infection. Our jails and prisons are overcrowded and the conditions are often unsanitary.
We should immediately begin releasing pre-trial detainees who are being held on bond. These people have not been convicted of any crimes and are presumed innocent, under the law. They remain locked up because they cannot afford to purchase their freedom by posting bond as wealthier people accused of the same crimes are able to do.
Timeline of Events So Far:
March 23 -- Gov. Justice announces a stay-at-home order which asks West Virginians to limit movements outside of their homes to essential needs only. Going to the grocery store, pharmacy or getting take-out is still permitted. Goingt to work, visiting family members with no urgent need are not permitted.
March 22 -- The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals stops all civil actions that do not qualify as emergencies through April 10. Evictions are not emergencies under the Court’s definition.
March 20 -- Gov. Justice announces the closure of West Virginia's 10 State Park Lodges, the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System and the seven U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-managed campgrounds. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in West Virginia rises to nine.
March 19 -- ACLU-WV co-signs a letter with the National Juvenile Justice Network to the governor calling for a halt to juvenile detentions in West Virginia.
March 18 -- A second case of COVID-19 is confirmed in West Virginia, this one in Mercer County.
Secretary of State Mac Warner announces that all WV voters will be able to request an absentee ballot in the May 12 Primary Election.
March 17 – West Virginia becomes the last state to confirm a case of COVID-19. Governor Jim Justice closes all bars and restaurants for dine-in services, but leaves them open for takeout. Casinos will also be closed outright.
March 16 – Gov. Jim Justice declares a state of emergency for all 55 counties.
Use of emergency powers in this pandemic can be legitimate for measures grounded in science and public health and when consistent with the need to protect the health, safety, and civil liberties of us all.
At the same time, history teaches that our government is most prone to committing abuses in times of crisis, and we must ensure that broad emergency powers are not misused beyond legitimate needs.
ACLU-WV will be watching closely to make sure any use of these powers in response to the pandemic is grounded in science and public health, not politics or discrimination. As he government takes the necessary steps to ensure public health, it must also safeguard people’s due process, privacy, and equal protection rights. We must regularly reevaluate the use of emergency powers to ensure they are effective, remain justified, and are properly deployed.
March 15 – Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin declares a state of Emergency in West Virginia’s Capital City. The declaration allows the city administration to act quickly to purchase needed equipment for first responders without convening City Council. The city also announced that the next city council meeting would occur electronically to help prevent potential spread of disease among city officials.
March 13 – ACLU-WV calls on Gov. Jim Justice to call a special session of the Legislature to approve no-excuse absentee voting in the May 12 Primary Election and the Nov. 3 General Election.
March 13 -- ACLU-WV, along with partner organizations Mountain State Justice, Our Future West Virginia, and the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, is calling on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to issue a directive to magistrates to put a moratorium on eviction actions, both new and pending, during the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
March 13 – President Donald Trump declares a Nationwide State of Emergency which will allow the president to exercise an array of emergency powers and tap into $50 billion for states to begin setting up emergency facilities.
March 12 – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals issues guidance to all judicial officers to delay all “non-time sensitive matters.” This could delay justice for many pre-trial detainees who cannot afford to post bail and are vulnerable to exposure to COVID-19 as they await trial in unsanitary and crowded jails.
March 12 – ACLU-WV calls on state officials to consider releasing all pre-trial detainees who are being held on bond. These individuals are vulnerable to infection in the state’s crowded jails, and have not yet been convicted of any crime, but are being held solely because they cannot afford to purchase their freedom.
March 12 – The West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation announces that in-person visits are being suspended. Attorney visits and electronic visits are still permitted.
March 10 – ACLU-WV writes to the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation to request a meeting with officials about actions being taken to safeguard incarcerated individuals from exposure and infection.