Texas Governor Retroactively Decriminalizes Defying Stay-At-Home Orders

on March 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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May 8, 2020 10:52 a.m.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) retroactively defanged his own stay-at-home orders Thursday just before the state Supreme Court freed a Dallas salon owner who had been held in contempt of court and sentenced to a week in jail for defying them.

The salon owner, Shelley Luther, was found in contempt after ignoring a judge’s order to stop operating her business, and sentenced to seven days in jail and a $7,000 fine. Abbott had previously ordered that hair salons, along with barbershops and tanning salons, be opened Friday.

Her release was ordered by the Texas Supreme Court on Thursday, shortly after Abbott altered his executive order. A statement put out by the governor’s office had added that “if correctly applied,” his new order “should free Shelley Luther.”

The Court order directed officials at the Dallas County Jail to release Luther on a personal bond, without requiring any payment from her. It also said that the justices were of the “tentative opinion” that the issue requires “further consideration.”

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The case had also caught the attention of Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), who called Luther’s imprisonment a “misguided use of power,” especially as “hardened criminals” were let out of jail to tamp down the spread of coronavirus.

Criminal punishments attached to many states’ stay-at-home orders have become a rallying point for conservatives itching to get the economy reopened faster, no matter the enduring pandemic.

In Ohio on Thursday, Republicans in the House passed legislation that would downgrade the punishment in the state’s stay-at-home orders to misdemeanor level and a fine.

And in Wisconsin earlier this week, a conservative state Supreme Court justice repeatedly brought up the orders’ criminal consequences as evidence that the state health secretary was exercising undue power and creating her own criminal law.

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