CV NEWS FEED // New York lawmakers were briefly slated to consider a bill that would have empowered the governor to “detain people without a court hearing or an immediate right to a lawyer in a state of emergency declared because of communicable diseases,” according to lawyer and commentator Wesley J. Smith.
The alarming bill was then quickly withdrawn by its sponsor, Smith reported Tuesday.
The language of the bill would have allowed the governor “or his or her delegee, including, but not limited to the commissioner or the heads of local health departments” to “order the removal and/or detention” of a “person” or “group of such persons” with a “single order,” Smith reported Tuesday at the National Review.
Detainment by order of the governor or health officials would only be contingent on the “opinion of the governor” that the citizens in question may spread a “contagious disease” that threatens public health. “Such person or group of persons shall be detained in a medical facility or other appropriate facility or premises designated by the governor or his or her delegee….”
“This means that local health officials could order people arrested and detained in a health or other ‘appropriate facility,’” Smith reported. “And there could be mass detentions of unidentified people deemed part of a ‘group.’”
Smith pointed out that while the proposal stipulated that officials must release people they detain if those people are found to be uninfected, the release would not necessarily be quick or straightforward. Altogether, what the bill allowed for “could amount to more than a week of extrajudicial detention before the detainee would see the inside of a courtroom.”
The language of the bill got worse, however. If a detainee requested release, “detention shall not continue for more than five business days in the absence of a court order authorizing detention,” the bill stated:
Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions, in no event shall any person be detained for more than sixty days without a court order authorizing such detention.
The governor or his or her delegee shall seek further court review of such detention within ninety days following the initial court order authorizing detention and thereafter within ninety days of each subsequent court review.
Smith went on to raise the alarm about the fact that, in other parts of the bill, it clearly left open the possibility of denying detainees access to legal counsel. In several instances, the text fell short of guaranteeing access to legal representation, instead only vaguely promising that requests for counsel would be facilitated “to the extent possible” or “to the extent feasible” under “the circumstances.”
“‘To the extent possible under the circumstances’ would allow a lot of detention without representation,” Smith wrote. “The bill will be taken up on January 6, 2022. May it sink quickly beneath the waves.”
Smith got his wish within hours. “The sponsor just withdrew the bill, calling opposition a ‘conspiracy theory,’” he reported Tuesday evening. “I quoted the bill!”