Federal judge upholds Louisiana bar restrictions

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

A New Orleans federal judge has upheld restrictions on bars Gov. John Bel Edwards imposed to control the spread of COVID-19.

The bar owners say there is no evidence that their establishments are linked to any coronavirus infections and that closing an entire class of businesses is unfair and illegal. Edwards cites state and federal public health experts who say closing bars is the right move in states like Louisiana with high rates of COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman said the closure order falls under the broad powers the governor has in an emergency.

The ruling was released Monday afternoon, around the same time Edwards was testifying in a similar lawsuit in Lafayette. A Baton Rouge court reached a similar conclusion earlier this month.

Edwards says closing barrooms to in-person service is consistent with recommendations of state public health experts and the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which puts Louisiana in the “red zone” for new cases and “yellow zone” for testing positivity rates and recommends bar closures as part of the strategy to slow the spread of this illness.

“The evidence is clear that mask mandates and closing on-site consumption at bars work, and more than a month after implementing both measures in Louisiana the data shows they are working,” Edwards said in a prepared statement released Monday.

The governor acknowledged the restrictions are painful for affected business owners but argued “they offer the best shot for us to be able to open as much of our economy as possible while still keeping the ability to provide life-saving health care in our hospitals.”

Jimmy Faircloth, who served as executive counsel to former Gov. Bobby Jindal, represented bar owners in the New Orleans case and also in the Lafayette suit.

“While there is no doubt that the Governor may enact and enforce policies and executive orders to counteract a pandemic in the name of public health and safety, the orders at issue go too far on too little,” Faircloth wrote in a court filing. “There is simply no basis in science or other reliable evidence to support the targeted closure of a single industry under these circumstances.”

The Lafayette plaintiffs say threatened enforcement of the executive order violates the due process, equal protection and takings clauses of both the state and U.S. Constitution. Along with preventing enforcement, they are seeking payment either for damages for the deprivation of their rights or compensation for the taking of their property under the governor’s authority to confiscate private property during an emergency declaration.