Blizzard of Blog Law

As the 2012 superblizzard hits New England, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has issued an executive order banning motor vehicle traffic in the state.

But among the exceptions – along with the police, firefighters, healthcare workers – is the “news media.”

So, does that mean bloggers and citizen journalists can drive right now in Massachusetts? Are they news media?

The executive order – No. 543 [pdf with signature] – does not define “news media.” So should we interpret that to include only newspaper, television, and radio, or bloggers and independent journalists as well? The stakes are high. The Milford Daily News reports that violations of the ban can be punished with a year in jail.

By the way, the order raises a general constitutional question regarding the unenumerated, but court-recognized, right to travel. I am sure that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would argue that preventing accidents during Snowmaggedon is a compelling government interest and the travel ban is narrowly tailored to serve those ends, so the order would survive whatever constitutional scrutiny put to it.

But I am not so sure. If the travel ban were held to require strict-scrutiny analysis, then a state-wide ban of indefinite duration seems to me not to be narrowly tailored.

When you scrutinize the details, the order seems not to make a lot of sense. Here is the full list of exemptions under the order. Notice anything odd?

  • public safety vehicles and public safety workers, including contract personnel
  • public works vehicles and public works workers, including contract personnel; government officials conducting official business
  • utility company vehicles and utility workers
  • healthcare workers who must travel to and from work in order to provide essential health services
  • news media
  • travel necessary to maintain and deliver critical private sector services such as energy, fuel supplies and delivery, financial systems and the delivery of critical commodities
  • travel to support business operations that provide critical services to the public, including gasoline stations, food stores and hardware stores

Why is travel allowed for gas-station workers if almost no one will need gas since nearly all vehicles are banned?

And the hardware store thing is strange as well. So, hardware stores will be able to have the employees they need to stay open – but no one can drive to the hardware stores. Granted, a few people might be within walking distance of one. But then, what kind of hardware do you need in the middle of a blizzard? I get that there’s a need for plywood before a hurricane hits, but what do you need with hardware during a blizzard?

Finally, I have to say I find it a bit funny that the web-version of the order refers to Governor Patrick as “His Excellency.” I didn’t know anyone in the U.S. used that title. To be fair, Massachusetts has a constitution older than the U.S. Constitution. But still, “His Excellency” seems a little needlessly eccentric.

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