A Federal District Judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana has ruled in favor of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards in an action brought over his closure of bars, rejecting a request from several bar owners in the New Orleans and Houma areas to enjoin the Governor and declare the order unconstitutional.
Federal Judge Martin Feldman, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, issued a ruling Monday, August 17th, after a virtual hearing in the matter last week. In his Order, Judge Feldman wrote that the bar owners made a “strong case,” but failed to overcome the “deference due state officials during this pandemic.”
“The case turns on a classic ‘who-decides’ question,” Feldman wrote. “As between democratically accountable state officials and a federal court, who decides what measures best protect Louisianans during a global pandemic? The answer is state officials.”
The decision comes after Edwards won a separate legal challenge to his order in a Louisiana state court, and as he defends another suit in federal court.
“I am pleased that Judge Feldman upheld bar restrictions, which is one of the critical mitigation measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Louisiana to protect and save lives,” Edwards said in a statement. “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.”
The bar owners in the action to enjoin the Governor were represented by Jimmy Faircloth, a former top lawyer to then-Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. Faircloth is spearheading at least one other legal challenge to the public health order in what many see as a political, rather than legal maneuver. The State’s Republican Attorney General, Jeff Landry, issued an advisory opinion that called the Governor’s order unconstitutional. However the AG’s opinion does not hold the force of law and was mostly seen as a pandering political move. Additionally, the action before Judge Feldman was backed by several conservative Republican state lawmakers, many of whom have sought to undo Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions through a petition. Nearly all state House Republicans also signed onto a letter by Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder asking Edwards to reopen bars.
Edwards in mid-July ordered bars statewide to close, the same day he mandated masks in an effort to get a grip on spiraling cases and hospitalizations. Despite the political maneuvering by state Republicans, The Trump White House Coronavirus Task Force backed the move by the Governor as one of the only ways to get infections under control without closing down broad swaths of the economy. While the restrictions have drawn partisan fire, Edwards has pointed to recent improvement in the state’s coronavirus trends as evidence they are working. Public health officials and state officials across the U.S. have suggested bars are too risky of a setting to remain open.
Louisiana has seen cases over the past seven days drop by about half compared to a month ago, when Edwards issued his order closing bars and mandating masks, though testing has dipped some. The surge in cases Louisiana experienced in the early part of the summer also led to a rising death toll, and 234 people have died from the virus over the past week.