by Bruce Walker
The ongoing saga of Owosso barber Karl Manke’s battle against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order to shutter businesses during the coronavirus pandemic turned another page on Thursday.
Shiawassee County Circuit Judge Matthew J. Stewart determined state attorneys failed to convince him Manke’s refusal to comply with the governor’s order posed an imminent threat to the public. As a result, Manke’s shop on Owosso’s Main Street will remain open and the 77-year-old barber will be cutting hair for the foreseeable future.
The legal battle began on May 8, when Michigan State Police served Manke notice he was violating the governor’s shutdown orders, imposed beginning March 24. The standoff between Manke and the state, including Attorney General Dana Nessel, quickly escalated into a public battle with alternate sides either praising Manke or condemning him.
Manke reopened his shop on May 4, but received a notice to shut down on May 5. His refusal to comply resulted in the attorney general suspending his barber’s license on May 13.
On Wednesday, Manke participated in Operation Haircut on the Capitol lawn in Lansing during which he practiced his trade on fellow protestors. Wednesday’s event was the most recent of several protests held in Lansing to register disapproval of the governor’s edicts issued to close what she termed “nonessential” businesses.
Stewart’s ruling on Thursday coincided with announcements during Whitmer’s news conference wherein she revealed her plans to allow opening automotive dealerships and retail shops for customers by appointment, beginning Tuesday, May 26. The governor also stated she would allow hospitals to perform elective surgeries, beginning Friday, May 29.
Whitmer also said she was relaxing her executive order limiting the size of gatherings. Groups of 10 people or less are now acceptable. She further pronounced the new rule effective immediately.
“Because of every person who did their part to slow the spread of #COVID19, the data shows that Michigan is ready for this step,” the governor said on her Facebook account. “Stay smart, stay safe, and continue to do your part to protect our communities. We’re getting through this together.”
Additionally, Whitmer announced earlier this week she would allow counties in the Upper Peninsula and Region 6 of the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula to operate restaurants and bars at 50 percent occupancy, starting Friday, May 22. However, overnight camping on state-owned land is prohibited until May 28 in nondesignated areas, “at least” until June 9 for state forest campgrounds, and June 21 for state campgrounds and recreational areas.
Whitmer, however, has been steadfast in her refusal to allow barber shops, salons, pet grooming services and massage therapy locations to open despite the expiration of her extended lockdown order on Thursday, May 28.
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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.
Photo “Karl Manke Speaking” by Dana Howard.