Legal challenge to Gov. Edwards’ order closing bars is rejected by Baton Rouge judge

Governor exercised his power ‘on behalf of the people,’ Judge Janice Clark rules

The Bourbon Cowboy bar is boarded up with a message reading "We will survive" in the French Quarter on July 14, 2020 in New Orleans. Louisiana. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration announced Friday that bars in the city can resume selling alcohol to go or curbside. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

A musician, a caterer and two bar owners who asked a Baton Rouge judge to rule against Gov. John Bel Edwards’ emergency order that shuts down bars lost in court Thursday when the judge ruled for Edwards’ administration.“The court is firmly of the opinion that the governor has exercised his power deliberately, on behalf of the people of this state and in an effort to be proactive to limit the loss of life,” Judge Janice Clark of the 19th Judicial District said in her ruling.

In their lawsuit, the four Jefferson Parish plaintiffs borrowed heavily from a July 15 official opinion released by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, which claims that the governor’s emergency order — which also limits social gatherings to 50 people and requires residents to cover their faces in public — “does not pass the constitutional test” and “cannot be enforced with criminal or financial sanctions.” Attorney general opinions are advisory and do not carry the force of law.

“I am pleased that Judge Clark upheld the critical mitigation measures I put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Louisiana and to project and save lives,” Gov. Edwards said in a written statement after Thursday’s ruling. “The evidence is clear that mask mandates and bar closures work.”

The plaintiffs argued that Gov. Edwards overstepped his authority when he unilaterally ordered that masks be worn and bars be closed. They said any such orders should have come from the Louisiana Legislature.

The plaintiffs also argued that Edwards has arbitrarily picked which recommendations he wants to enforce and which he wants to ignore, much to the detriment of bar owners and small businesses.

The Louisiana Disaster Act allows Gov. Edwards to make executive orders and proclamations in states of emergency without consulting the Legislature in order to protect his people. They went on to argue that this pandemic is the definition of a state of emergency, like a hurricane or 9/11-like event. 

“By definition, a pandemic is an unknown, unsolved disease,” James Garner, the attorney representing the governor’s administration, said.

The governor’s administration acknowledged that executive powers can be abused, but said witness testimonies from health experts across the state proved that the Gov. Edwards’ orders were grounded in science and medical advice.

“Denying the injunction will save human lives,” Garner said.

Judge Clark agreed. 

“We are being tossed and driven by a disease that is not subject to legislation. That is not subject to executive order,” said Judge Clark. “It will only be abated by medical science.”