Michigan Barber Who Flouted Whitmer’s Lockdown Can Remain Open, Judge Rules

May 22, 2020 Updated: May 22, 2020

A Michigan barbershop owner who had his license suspended after he cut hair during Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “non-essential” business shutdown will not have to close shop, a judge ruled on May 21.

Shiawassee County Judge Matthew Stewart said Thursday that the state health department had failed to show that Karl Manke’s shop—Karl Manke Main Street, Barber & Beauty Shop—in Owosso, a small town between Lansing and Flint, “has the potential to spread COVID-19 around the state.”

The 77-year-old had both his license and that of his business “summarily suspended,” according to a May 12 order (pdf) signed by Debra Gagrialdi, director of the Bureau of Professional Licensing, which claims that the situation at the Owosso barber required “emergency action” to protect “the public health, safety, or welfare.”

Manke reopened his shop on May 4 despite Whitmer’s statewide “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order for “non-essential” businesses like his to remain closed. Whitmer has said barber shops and hair salons are risky places because of the contagious virus.

“Listen, I’ve been in this business for 59 years. She wants to come cut my hands off, that’s another story,” Manke told the Associated Press in an interview, referring to Gov. Whitmer.

Manke, who joined other barbers and hairdressers to cut hair for free during an anti-lockdown protest at the Capitol on Wednesday, told Fox News that he will not “stand down.”

Judge Stewart said in his opinion that the Michigan Attorney General’s Office did not provide reasons why Manke’s shop posed a threat to public health.

“(The attorney general) has not presented any studies underlying the doctor’s conclusion. (The attorney general) has not shown any nexus between the cutting of hair and an increased risk of transmission,” Stewart wrote. “(The attorney general’s) filings rest more on general facts about COVID-19 than specific practices or conditions at (Manke’s) business.”

In a video conference on the Whitmer administration’s request for an injunction to close the Manke’s shop, Stewart said an affidavit from the state’s chief medical executive and photos weren’t sufficient to prove that Manke contributed to the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.

“That’s not enough to tip the scales, no matter how great the public emergency,” the judge said, adding that it was a “close call.”

Stewart added that Manke could have been arrested if authorities believed his barber shop posed a steady threat to public health.

The 77-year-old’s attorney, Dave Kallman, said that there needs to be evidence to show that Manke’s shop was spreading COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP virus.

“You can’t just argue COVID is awful, it’s killing people. Who disputes that?” he noted. “They have to show the barber shop is spreading the virus. The judge saw it clearly.”

Michigan’s Attorney General’s Office said it plans to appeal Stewart’s ruling.

“The Court of Appeals retained jurisdiction over this case when it ordered the trial court to hold a hearing so the Court of Appeals is where this matter will ultimately be decided,” the office said a statement. “We look forward to having our day in that court.”

Tom Ozimek and The Associated Press contributed to this report.