News and Commentary

Judge Spikes Gov. Whitmer’s Request To Shut Down Michigan Barber
LANSING, MI - MAY 20: Owosso barber, Karl Manke, gives a speech before cutting hair for free on the steps of the state Capitol during Operation Haircut on May 20, 2020 in Lansing, Michigan. The event was a protest planned by the Michigan Conservative Coalition in response to an Owosso barber, Karl Manke, whose business license was taken away after he violated the stay-at-home order by reopening. The protest is part of a growing national movement against stay-at-home orders that are designed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Elaine Cromie/Getty Images)
Elaine Cromie/Getty Images

A Michigan county judge denied a request by the state attorney general to close down an Owosso barbershop that has now been open for weeks in violation of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lockdown order.

Shiawassee County Circuit Judge Matthew Stewart ruled against Whitmer on Thursday, refusing to grant an injunction on 77-year-old Karl Manke’s barbershop. Manke opened his shop on May 4 and closed it briefly last week after being served papers from the state attorney general. He again opened his shop on Tuesday, according to The Detroit News.

Stewart said the case was a “close call” but ultimately ruled in favor of Manke because the state could not conclusively show that Manke was a threat to the public by operating his business. The threat to public health “must be actual and not theoretical,” the judge said.

“[The government] has not presented any studies underlying the doctor’s conclusion. [It] has not shown any nexus between the cutting of hair and an increased risk of transmission,” Stewart wrote in his decision, according to the Lansing State Journal.

State assistant attorney general Joseph Potchen intends to appeal Stewart’s decision. He had argued that Manke’s business was at risk to spread the coronavirus.

“This is not a clean business,” Potchen said. “There is close physical contact. You see the pictures of clients not wearing masks or the waiting room where safe distancing is not being practiced.”

David Kallman, Manke’s defense attorney, said that the barber’s actions were an expression of free speech and a demonstration against the government’s shutdown order.

Manke attended and spoke at a demonstration at Michigan’s state capitol on Wednesday dubbed “Operation Haircut.” Manke and other hairdressers cut hair on the capitol steps in protest of the state’s lockdown.

Stewart has ruled in Manke’s favor once before. Shortly after Manke reopened his shop at the beginning of the month, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel applied for a temporary restraining order against Manke’s business, which Stewart denied.

Owosso police have fined Manke twice since he reopened, and the state health department has pulled his license to operate. The barber has promised he will continue to do business as long as he has willing customers, however.

Manke has instituted his own set of social distancing rules in his shop, spacing chairs six feet apart for people who are waiting. He wears a mask while he works, and asks his customers to do the same, though he does not require them too.

Manke shut down for several days on May 14 after his license was suspended and he was served court papers. He slammed Whitmer’s administration, calling it a “police state.”

“I feel she’s breaking the law, I feel she’s entered into a police state type of situation now,” Manke said. “Getting me and taking my license without due process, just pulling my license is a police state tactic.”

Manke reopened his shop after about six weeks of forced closure under Whitmer’s executive order. He was forced to reopen, he said, because he needed to earn money to keep his business.

“I can … run my business how I feel I should run it,” Manke said at the time. “To tell you the truth, I am scared but I didn’t really have any choice. I need to work through that fear and open up.”

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