Federal judge sides with Louisiana governor on COVID-19 bar closures
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A second federal judge in Louisiana has refused to block a bar closure order issued by Gov. John Bel Edwards to fight the spread of COVID-19.
U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays in Lafayette, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) west of New Orleans, ruled in favor of the Democratic governor Friday evening in a lawsuit filed by 11 bar owners in southwest Louisiana.
A federal judge in New Orleans had ruled against 10 bar owners in southeast Louisiana on Monday.
Both judges held that the closure was legal under the broad public health emergency powers of the governor. The same attorney handled both cases and has already appealed the New Orleans ruling.
“The record here reflects a ‘real and substantial relation’ between the Governor’s bar-related restrictions and the state’s efforts to control the spread of COVID-19,” Summerhays wrote.
The lawyer for bar owners in both cases is Jimmy Faircloth, who served as executive counsel in the administration of Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal. In both cases the bar owners contend that the bars were closed without constitutional due process or equal protection under law.
Edwards, a Democrat, testified in the Lafayette case. He has been under pressure from Republican lawmakers to ease virus-related restrictions. Edwards maintains the restrictions are necessary and are working to reduce infections after the state suffered a summer resurgence of infections and hospitalizations from the virus.
At the heart of the arguments has been whether statistics support the closures of on-site consumption at bars — the order allows take-out and delivery — while restaurants that contain bars are not closed. State officials have noted that under state guidelines, restaurants’ bar areas must serve food and take other steps to discourage the lack of social distancing that characterizes a stand-alone bar.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
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