An appeals court ruled against a Michigan barber who's become a totem for the anti-lockdown movement—but he’s still fighting against safety precautions meant to stem the coronavirus that has killed more than 100,000 Americans.
Karl Manke, an Owosso barber who has brazenly defied coronavirus shutdown orders from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, was too busy with customers Friday morning to answer questions about the Michigan Court of Appeals’ decision to allow a preliminary injunction against him.
But his lawyer, David Kallman—who previously defended high school students accused of posting racial slurs on Snapchat—was happy to discuss Manke’s pending Michigan Supreme Court appeal and pontificate on the case that has garnered national headlines.
“This is a serious virus, nobody disputes that, but it doesn’t mean you just run roughshod all over the Constitution," Kallman said, adding that he was “a bit of a Libertarian.”
“If a virus means we can lose all of our rights, well, what’s it going to be next?” he added.
The dispute started when Manke, who has described Michigan under Whitmer’s leadership as “a police state,” re-opened his shop despite the governor's order—galvanizing a wave of support from Michiganders outraged by the shutdown. When the state licensing department revoked his professional license earlier this month, members of a local militia showed up to keep him from being served. ("As long as they didn't pull a gun on anyone and shoot anyone in the leg, I didn't care," Manke said at the time.)
Last week, Shiawassee County Circuit Judge Matthew Stewart refused to issue a preliminary injunction against Manke, saying state officials failed to prove that the barber shop posed an imminent threat to public safety. But the state attorney general appealed Stewart’s decision, and the Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the lower court judge should issue a preliminary injunction ordering Manke to “immediately cease” operations.
“Uncontroverted evidence clearly revealed that COVID-19 can be spread from person-to-person quickly and reach people separate from an area of contamination,” the court wrote in its 2-1 decision. “From this record, the trial court should have concluded that the risk that the party seeking the injunction would be harmed more by the absence of an injunction than the opposing party would be by the granting of the relief.”
Kallman, however, said he appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court Thursday evening, triggering an automatic stay on the Court of Appeals’ ruling. Until the Supreme Court decides whether or not to take the case, Kallman said, there would be no injunction issued ordering Manke to close.
Asked what would happen if the Supreme Court refused to take the case, or ruled against his client, Kallman said he would cross that bridge when he came to it.
“As we’re speaking there still is no order ordering Karl to shut down,” he said, adding: “It’s all up in the air what the courts are ultimately going to do.”
Michigan was one of the hardest-hit states in the pandemic, with more than 56,000 confirmed cases and at least 5,372 deaths.As the number of positive COVID-19 cases begins to trend downward, Whitmer has allowed some non-essential businesses, such as shopping malls, to slowly reopen. The state reported 406 new confirmed cases and 38 deaths on Thursday.