A veteran federal judge, Martin L.C. Feldman of New Orleans, asked that fundamental question about Louisiana's restrictions on activities that spread coronavirus.
For ultimately, in a worldwide coronavirus emergency, who decides what should be done in Louisiana are the authorities of our state, notably Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Feldman, an eminence on the U.S. District Court since 1983, rejected a request from several bar owners in the New Orleans and Houma areas for relief from state orders that closed drinking establishments.
“The case turns on a classic 'who-decides' question,” Feldman wrote. “As between democratically accountable state officials and a federal court, who decides what measures best protect Louisianans during a global pandemic? The answer is state officials.”
The Feldman ruling followed an earlier rejection of legal challenges to Edwards’ orders in state district court in Baton Rouge. A similar request to block bar closures was also turned down by U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays in Lafayette.
The ruling in neither Lafayette, Baton Rouge or New Orleans — where the economic impact on the hospitality industry of the coronavirus shutdowns has been extreme — certainly does not mean that Edwards’ decisions are painless. Feldman called the question of whether bars were singled out a “strong case,” but said that it does not overcome the evidence presented by state health officials that bars’ crowds spiked recent outbreaks of the coronavirus.
Dr. Alex Billioux of the Department of Health was a key and credible witness in these courtrooms. And the evidence so far is that restrictions do work, if not as painlessly as we would wish.
One day, study might find that Edwards’ orders were unwise in some particular or another. He’s revised them several times as circumstances changed; politically very important, he’s acted on guidance from the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
We believe that ultimately, as Feldman said, this is a situation requiring executive decision. The governor of our state has decided whether one thinks rightly or wrongly. The economic and social consequences, outlined before the courts but well-known to the public, have been serious.
Bars in particular have taken a beating, leading to eager — it not desperate — clients for Jimmy Faircloth, executive counsel to former Gov. Bobby Jindal. He has brought the cases against Edwards’ rulings in the federal courts.
Leadership is not about making everything right. It’s about making the best decisions that one can. We believe that the courts are right to be deferential to the powers of the governor or others who act in this public health crisis in ways that ordinarily would be objectionable.