Republican Senate candidate sues Walz over COVID-19 restrictions

Jason Lewis
Republican Senate candidate Jason Lewis holds a town hall meeting in Bemidji, Minn., on Jan. 23, 2020, to discuss a recent county vote barring refugees from resettling in the area. Lewis sued Gov. Tim Walz over the state’s coronavirus restrictions.
John Enger | MPR News file

Updated: 5:38 p.m.

Republican Senate candidate Jason Lewis filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, arguing that restrictions meant to contain the spread of the coronavirus violate his ability to campaign as he wishes.

The case is just one of several lawsuits over the governor’s coronavirus orders. But the unique nature of it could earn Lewis attention, something harder for political candidates to come by with COVID-19 still dominating the public’s attention.

Lewis, a former congressman, is among the Republicans seeking the nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith. Lewis argues that the now-lapsed stay-at-home order and other continuing restrictions have kept him from campaign activities “such as rallies, meetings, dinners, and speeches.”

“The overreach from these unprecedented lockdowns has moved beyond economic hardship and favoritism into the realm of threatening our most basic liberties, including the fundamental right to travel and meet with friends and neighbors,” Lewis said in a written statement. “Our action serves notice on the state that it, too, has limits, especially when its arbitrary actions encroach on the freedoms of Minnesotans.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court. It seeks an injunction against any enforcement against large gatherings or travel as well as attorneys fees.

The Minnesota restrictions aren’t unique to campaigns nor do they apply to candidates specifically. But Lewis notes that campaigns aren’t exempt either.

Walz’s spokesperson said the restrictions are “action that is within the governor’s authority. It is also in line with federal guidance and similar to what many other states are doing.”

“All of the governor’s actions have been grounded in the need to protect the health and safety of Minnesotans,” the governor’s spokesperson said.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said his office will defend the governor’s orders in court.

“Courts around the country have been upholding governors’ orders to protect people from COVID-19. I have no reason to think courts in Minnesota will rule differently,” Ellison said. “Jason Lewis is tying up our legal system with a frivolous, political lawsuit about how the pandemic has inconvenienced him personally while Minnesotans are caring for each other by staying safe at home.”

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