Claiming overreach, Minnesota churches and small business owners have filed a federal lawsuit to strike down Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency orders that have largely shuttered civil society and brought economic activity close to a standstill in the state.
The lockdown in Minnesota began on March 17.
The civil rights lawsuit is one of more than 40 reportedly filed in recent weeks, challenging lockdown policies in effect in various states across the country aimed at containing the CCP virus that causes the disease COVID-19. The Trump administration has vowed to take legal action against governors who continue imposing tough lockdown rules even after the crisis passes in their states.
A motion for a temporary restraining order against the state was filed by the plaintiffs in federal court on May 18.
The lawsuit comes after another group, Free Minnesota Small Business Coalition, filed a separate legal action in state court fighting the governor’s diktats. The Coalition’s legal complaint alleges favoritism: “The disparity is apparent; large corporations are favored over small businesses.”
Doug Seaton, president of the Minneapolis-based Upper Midwest Law Center, which filed the new lawsuit, explained the reasons behind it. The Upper Midwest Law Center describes itself as a nonprofit, public interest law firm whose mission is “to initiate pro-freedom litigation to protect against government overreach, special interest agendas, and public union corruption and abuses.”
The governor’s “scheme of selecting economic winners and losers by wholly shutting down some businesses while allowing others to remain open violates the plaintiff businesses’ 14th Amendment due process and equal protection rights,” according to Seaton.
This scheme also constitutes “a taking under the Fifth Amendment, and his prohibition on worshippers gathering violates churches’ and individuals’ First Amendment rights. The Constitution requires that the governor respect the individual rights of all citizens at all times, narrowly tailor any restrictions, and apply the same rules to all.”
Among the plaintiffs are: Northland Baptist Church of St. Paul; Living Word Christian Center, which holds services in three cities; Glow In One Mini Golf LLC of Blaine; and Myron’s Cards and Gifts Inc., which has stores in five cities.
Seaton told The Epoch Times that the executive orders don’t make sense.
“Small businesses are being punished in an anti-competitive way,” he said.
The governor has singled out small businesses for closure “even though the big-box stores can’t do any better than they can in complying with the CDC guidelines.”
“Mini golf has been shut down, while liquor stores can operate,” he said.
“All of the salons are shut down even though they’re licensed,” he said. This is happening even though “they know how to manage sanitation and infections.”
On May 18, Walz relaxed some of his restrictions on businesses. Some are now allowed to open at 50 percent capacity while observing social distancing, but bars and restaurants still aren’t permitted to allow customers to dine in. Movie theaters and stadiums remain closed.
Seaton said he was glad “all the legal and public pressure has forced the governor to retreat somewhat,” but his latest order “is even worse for churches and other religious institutions and retains restrictions on personal care businesses.”
Churches are singled out “for continued closure even if social distancing can be maintained, while the Mall of America and many large commercial venues are able to operate.”
Andrew Hulse, co-owner of two hair salons in the Minneapolis suburbs and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, has been forbidden from opening his businesses even though pet groomers are allowed to open. Together, the salons employ about 20 people, he said.
The governor has provided a tentative re-opening date of June 1, but it is unclear what the upcoming order implementing the policy will actually provide, Hulse told The Epoch Times in an interview.
Dealing with the authorities during the pandemic has been frustrating, he said.
“There’s been no ability to provide any due process, no way for us to seek redress and no way to provide any direct feedback so that we could work with someone on how to safely reopen,” Hulse said.
“At our hair salons all the hair stations are semi-private with three walls around them,” he explained.
“We’re working with some of our vendors who provide hospital-grade disinfectants. We’ve been able to adopt best practices, but we’ve not been able to put those in place. It’s an extremely controlled environment much more so than walking around Walmart and picking up an apple that 20 people have touched before you.”
Hulse said his salons can be opened without imperiling the public.
“My grandmother is 95 years old and she lives in the same town that we live in. We aren’t going to do anything to put her in danger. We’re not going to put our employees or the public in danger. We feel like we can put procedures in place that keep our employees, guests, and families safe and we’ve just not been allowed to do that. It has been one person making decisions for every business in the state.”
Walz’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment from The Epoch Times.
Lawsuits in Other States
Lawsuits in other states aimed to curb the executive branch’s emergency powers have yielded mixed results.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court threw out Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’s stay-at-home orders on May 13. The court refused a request to put its order on hold for six days to allow the governor and lawmakers to craft new rules.
President Donald Trump lauded the ruling on Twitter, saying the people of Wisconsin “want to get on with their lives.”
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who served in the Obama administration, denounced it, saying the court’s ruling was motivated by politics and ideology and “callously puts lives at risk.”
On May 16, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction blocking North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s order outlawing indoor church services of more than 10 people. “There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution of the United States or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Judge James C. Dever III wrote.
In April, U.S. District Judge Justin Walker enjoined Louisville, Kentucky, Mayor Greg Fischer from forbidding drive-in church services. Fischer’s order was “stunning,” “beyond all reason,” and “unconstitutional,” Walker wrote.
On May 18, an Oregon state judge struck down restrictions on church gatherings and stay-at-home rules decreed by Democratic Gov. Kate Brown. Later the same day, the Oregon Supreme Court stayed the judge’s order, which allowed Brown’s fiat to remain in effect.