New Jersey Republicans are suing to knock down Gov. Phil Murphy’s restrictions on businesses and mass gatherings, which were put in place months ago to stop the spread of COVID-19.
According to a three-count, 13-page complaint filed in the Cape May County Superior Court on May 21, Murphy allegedly violated the due process of employers and employees by “arbitrarily” declaring some non-essential and others essential during the state shutdown.
And the governor has been enforcing “unconstitutional executive orders that deny millions of New Jerseyans equal protection under the law,” the suit continues.
To halt the spread of COVID-19, Murphy placed the state in a near-total lockdown, which meant the closure of the restaurant and hospitality industry; gyms, malls and casinos; theaters; most retail; entertainment and sporting events; and personal care businesses.
While mom and pop barbers, bars, brewpubs and retail shops are shuttered and struggling, big box stores, with big cash cushions, survive.
– New Jersey Republican Party Chair Doug Steinhardt
The state’s April unemployment numbers came in at 15.3 percent on Thursday, the highest ever since the federal government began keeping track in 1976.
“Governor Murphy has irreparably harmed New Jersey small businesses by arbitrarily declaring some essential and others non-essential,” reads a statement from New Jersey Republican Party Chair Doug Steinhardt.
One plaintiff in the suit is the New Jersey State Republican Committee. State Sen. Mike Testa, R-1st District, is the attorney for several business owners who make up the second group of plaintiffs.
They include a brewery in Cape May County, a golf course in Cumberland County, a horse trainer in Somerset County and a barbershop in Sussex County.
The two parties argue that they are filing the suit “on behalf of shuttered employers and some 1.1 million unemployed workers from around New Jersey.”
The suit also lists New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan and State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal as defendants.
“While mom and pop barbers, bars, brewpubs and retail shops are shuttered and struggling, big box stores, with big cash cushions, survive,” Steinhardt added.
Nationwide, the COVID-19 response and shutdowns have fallen along party lines, with Republicans pushing for a quicker rollback of restrictions, and questioning their necessity in the first place.
A Bellmawr gym owner made national headlines after deciding to reopen their business in defiance of state shutdown orders – but the establishment was forced to close on Thursday.
Murphy, when asked at his daily COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton, did not appear aware of the suit but brushed it aside.
“There’s a suit against me? As you can tell, I’ve spent a lot of time focused on that suit.”
“We make the decisions about what’s essential and not essential with input based on data, science, facts, health,” he added. “I’m sorry that the folks don’t like the definitions but the fact of the matter is they’re quite consistent.”
During a media appearance on CNBC earlier in the day, Murphy suggested that too quick a relaxation on restrictions would be akin to “throwing gasoline on the fire.”
That, he contested, would put New Jersey in “a much deeper hole, ultimately, economically.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:23 p.m. EST on May 21, 2020, to include additional information regarding the lawsuit and addition quotes from Gov. Phil Murphy.