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Second federal judge denies injunction, sides with governor on order closing bars

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Posted at 5:27 PM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-21 21:27:50-04

LAFAYETTE, La. — A federal judge has sided with Gov. John Bel Edwards and denied a request for an injunction that would have halted the state’s bar restrictions after several Acadiana bar owners filed a lawsuit against the governor over his order closing bars across the state for on-site consumption.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Summerhays issued his ruling on Friday after hearing testimony in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana from several of the bar owners along with Assistant Health Secretary Dr. Alex Billioux and the governor himself on Monday.

Both Billioux and Edwards were asked by the defense about how the order differentiates between a traditional bar with a bar permit from the Louisiana Alcohol Tobacco Control and a restaurant with a bar inside it with a restaurant permit.

You can read more on that here.

The ruling comes after a similar case was heard in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana last week where Judge Martin L.C. Feldman upheld the governor’s restrictions on bars in the state as part of its efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Louisiana.

“The court is sympathetic to the harm suffered by these plaintiffs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Summerhays in his 25-page ruling. “This pandemic has imposed tremendous, often unprecedented burdens on the country’s healthcare system, schools, economy, and daily life. Many individuals and small business owners have suffered disproportionate losses.”

Summerhays stated that it is not the court’s role to second guess the policy choices made by the governor.

“Those policy decisions must be judged in the political arena,” he wrote. “In our system, the ultimate checks against the policy choices of our political leaders are elections.”

Summerhays added that courts tend to give greater scrutiny to measures that infringe on fundamental rights even in the context of a public health crisis.

KATC reached out to the attorney representing the Acadiana bar owners, Jimmy Faircloth, who said that his clients are disappointed with Friday’s ruling.

“The decision from the Eastern District is based on Dr. Billioux’s testimony that there is a rational basis to differentiate between traditional bars and bars in restaurants,” said Faircloth. “This decision appears based on the testimony of the governor and Dr. Billioux that the closure order did not differentiate between traditional bars and bars in restaurants. How can it be both? The plaintiffs appear trapped in doubletalk cloaked in deference.”

Faircloth said that his clients intend to appeal the decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Gov. Edwards on Friday evening released the following statement on the ruling:

"I'm grateful for today's ruling which supports that my order was the right thing to do for the safety and health of our citizens as we work to slow the spread of this current health crisis," said Gov. Edwards. "To date, more than 140,000 of our people have contracted the coronavirus and sadly, more than 4,500 people have died as a result of it. This is now the fourth ruling that underscores the importance of the implementation of my COVID-19 orders. From the beginning of this pandemic, I have relied on the public health experts and data to drive all of my decisions.

"The evidence clearly shows that a significant number of outbreaks in our state have occurred at bars. Further, we know that a significant cause for the surge in cases we saw in June and July was a result of younger people, many of whom were asymptomatic. That is not unique to Louisiana but in fact, has proven to be the case around the country. I understand that this is causing a hardship for bar owners and my decision was not an easy one to make.

"We know that wearing masks and social distancing help slow the spread of the virus. That is why I implemented my mask mandate, restricted bars, and limited social gatherings to no more than 50 people. In addition, everyone needs to practice frequent hand washing and stay home when sick. We are all looking forward to the day when we can gather again and celebrate, but what we do today will determine how soon that can happen."

You can read the full ruling below.

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