Governor Gavin Newsom said during a press conference on Tuesday he would consider implementing martial law if it was necessary to curb the novel virus.
“We have the ability to do martial law ... if we feel the necessity,” he said.
Issuing martial law would be an unprecedented move rarely used by officials in US history. If enacted, it would temporarily replace civil rule with military authority.
The precedent for martial law in the US states “certain civil liberties may be suspended, such as the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom of association, and freedom of movement,” according to a legal journal.
The president and Congress have the power to enact martial law for the entire country. State governors also have the power to enact martial law if its in their state’s constitution.
Previous examples of martial law used include after World War II, specifically following the bombing of Pearl Harbour, when the state of Hawaii was held under martial law from 1941 to 1944. President Abraham Lincoln also used martial law during the Civil War to temporarily suspend habeas corpus, which is the right to a trial before imprisonment.
California considering the possibility of using martial law on Tuesday comes just two days after the governor said he had no current plans for the measure.
“If you want to establish a framework of martial law, which is ultimate authority and enforcement, we have the capacity to do that, but we are not feeling at this moment that is a necessity,” Mr Newsom said.
In recent days, California has seen a surge on Covid-19 cases with at least 751 people infected with the virus and 13 deaths.
To combat the spread, the state has prepared its 415 hospitals for the expected increase in patients in the coming weeks. The state currently has 88,000 beds available and expects to be short about 20,000 in the worst case scenario, Mr Newsom said.
“So we had a very candid and a sober if not sobering conversation about where we may be and where we need to go together,” Mr Newsom said after the meeting with hospital officials. ”The good news is none of it surprised any of us. We as a state, working with our system, anticipated much of these needs and have been running plans to address them,” he added.
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