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Seattle Restrictions on Gathering: A Constitutional Issue?

Posted by Steve Karimi | Apr 16, 2020 | 0 Comments

As the novel coronavirus has spread across the globe, life has been drastically altered for the vast majority of the population. People in the Seattle area have felt the impact of the virus particularly strongly. The first case of the novel coronavirus in the United States was confirmed in Washington, and in the months since then, the measures taken by the federal and state governments have grown more and more intense.

One of the main tools in the fight against COVID-19, as most people are aware, is social distancing. Social distancing simply involves keeping a distance from other people in the hopes that the virus will not transmit from infected people to uninfected people as quickly. Leaders in government and elsewhere have strongly encouraged the public to follow social distancing guidelines as a way to help keep vulnerable populations safe during this unprecedented time.

However, Washington Governor Jay Inslee took things a step further when he issued a total ban on gatherings of 250 people or more, including concerts, parades, and faith-based and sporting events. This extra step has been questioned by many as to its constitutionality. Here's a further look into it and what it could mean or you.

Constitutionality of the Ban on Gatherings in Washington State

As long as America has existed as an independent nation, it has held the freedom of the individual to be a guiding principle. In fact, the freedom to assemble, i.e., the freedom to come together with other people, is enshrined within the First Amendment. Thus, the ban on gatherings of groups of 250 people or more would seem to violate this right.

In addition, the Washington Supreme Court has mandated that any law that burdens religious practice must be looked at through the lens of strict scrutiny, which is the strongest form of judicial review. Essentially, strict scrutiny means that a law must be struck down unless the government can prove that it has a compelling interest and that the law is narrowly tailored to achieve that purpose using the least restrictive means possible. Because Governor Inslee's order impacts faith-based gatherings, it is arguable that this strict scrutiny basis should apply.

On the other hand, the government has a compelling interest in instituting the order as it helps prevent the transmission of a potentially deadly disease. In addition, the order does not target any one group in a specific way, and people may still be able to gather in smaller groups or use technology to gather virtually.

Penalties for Violating Washington State's Order Banning Gatherings

It is difficult to predict what the penalties for violating the order might be because Governor Inslee has not been overly specific in defining them. In response to a question of what they might be, Governor Inslee stressed the personal consequences of violating the order, saying, “You might be killing your grandad if you don't.”

However, a spokesperson for his office did say that those found in violation of it could be prosecuted for a gross misdemeanor. Given all of the unknowns surrounding the current circumstances, it is important that you have experienced representation if you are found to be violating the order in Washington.

Contact Karimi Law Office Today

If you are charged with violating the order, you will need help to navigate the criminal justice system. Let Steve Karimi's experience as a former prosecutor work for you. Call 206-621-8777 today for a free consultation.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.


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If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

Seattle Defense Lawyer

Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.