May 7, 2020
Abbott Capitulates to Conservatives in Hair Shop Case
with Back-Dated Virus Order Change Amid SC Ruling
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Governor Greg Abbott effectively cleared the way for an unofficial reopening of the Texas business sector on Thursday when he caved in to pressure from the hard right and ripped the teeth from a coronavirus-inspired order that had culminated in the jailing of a Dallas beauty salon owner who defied it.
The Republican governor revised the directive in question to prohibit local law enforcement authorities from putting violators behind bars for opening businesses that Abbott had designated as nonessential and shuttered for more than a month before he started giving some permission to reopen as part of a gradual restart plan.
Abbott announced that he'd "retroactively" modified the executive order that hair stylist Shelley Luther had openly snubbed shortly before the Texas Supreme Court freed her this morning from the Dallas County jail pending a decision on a legal challenge of a contempt of court ruling that had landed her there.
“Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen,” Abbott said. "That is why I am modifying my executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating an order."
In a highly unusual if not unprecedented move, Abbott declared that the effective date of the order that he altered today would be April 2, the same day that he implemented a statewide shelter-in-place mandate that expired late last week. The executive decree that the governor issued early last month had invalidated stay-at-home orders that local leaders in the state's larger cities and counties had imposed a week or two earlier.
"As some county judges advocate for releasing hardened criminals from jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is absurd to have these business owners take their place,” Abbott added.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton had both criticized the local decision that led to Luther's confinement and called for her release before Abbott changed the order after saying he didn't have the power to intervene.
State District Judge Eric Moyé had sentenced Luther to seven days in jail and fined her $7,000 as well for contempt of court after she ignored repeated orders to close her business Salon A La Mode in compliance with the lockdown that Abbott has implemented early last month. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins had sent Luther a cease and desist letter that she tore up at a demonstration against the state restrictions late last month.
Conservative lawmakers and activists who'd been pressing for Abbott's intervention in the Luther case are accusing him now of attempting to take credit for a decision that they say the state's highest court already had drafted and was poised to issue before the governor announced the directive change.
Abbott had announced this week that hair salons and barber shops could get back in business on Friday with a green light for gyms and some other businesses to reopen on May 18. Abbott told bars across Texas that they'd have to wait for the time being without a target date for reopening.
The governor's capitulation in the face of intense heat - coupled with the Supreme Court order - has the potential to open a massive can of worms that could prompt businesses that haven't been allowed to reopen to start operating again without fear of action beyond a citation and possible fine.
more to come ...