Federal judge sides with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on COVID-19 bar closures in first of two cases

Coronavirus

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks to reporters at a briefing on the state’s efforts against the coronavirus pandemic in Baton Rouge, La., Monday, May 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (Daily Advertiser) — A New Orleans federal judge on Monday sided with Gov. John Bel Edwards and his right to close bars under an emergency declaration to stem the spread of COVID-19 even as an identical case was being argued in front of another federal judge in Lafayette.

New Orleans Judge Martin Feldman issued his ruling refusing to overturn Edwards’ order as requested in a lawsuit by a group of Houma-area bar owners.

“On this record, the court is compelled to conclude that Governor Edwards’ ban of on-site consumption of food or drinks at ‘bars’ bears a ‘real or substantial relation’ to the goal of slowing the spread of COVID-19 and is not ‘beyond all question’ a violation of the bar owners’ constitutional rights,” the judge’s ruling states.

Feldman held his hearing Friday.

“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,” Edwards said in a tweet. “The evidence is clear that the restrictions are working.

“I know these orders are hard on business owners and I did not undertake them lightly. However, 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.”

In Lafayette on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert R. Summerhays of the Western District of Louisiana was hearing an identical lawsuit from a group of Acadiana bar owners filed by the same attorney.

Edwards’ order creates “classes” of bars, Jimmy Faircloth, a lawyer representing bar owners, argued in Lafayette federal court. Restaurants with bars are allowed to operate at 50% capacity, while standalone bars were forced to shutdown on-site consumption, he said.

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