Salon owner Shelley Luther is serving jail time right now for reopening her salon and refusing to bend to the temporary restraining order issued against it. The action has ignited conservatives and the debate over how far the state has gone to keep businesses closed over fear of spreading the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Luther reopened her business, a Dallas hair salon called Salon à la Mode, on April 24, despite the fact that the stay-at-home order was still in place in Texas. Her business had been closed since March 22, when most of the country shut down all non-essential businesses.
Though she received a cease-and-desist letter from County Judge Clay Jenkins, she tore it up and refused to close her business back down. Luther was then given a temporary restraining order (issued against the business), signed April 28, by state District Judge Eric Moyé, but, according to the Dallas Morning News, “Luther continued to operate the business.” On Tuesday Luther was dragged back to court and found in contempt for violating the temporary restraining order. Moyé threw her in jail and fined her $7,000.
Luther testified that she kept the business open, despite the restraining order, for good reason—at least to her. “I couldn’t feed my family, and my stylists couldn’t feed their families.”
Moyé called Luther selfish but said if she apologized and closed her salon until the stay-at-home orders were further revised, he would consider only slapping her with a fine instead of jail time.
Luther refused saying, “Feeding my kids is not selfish. If you think the law is more important than kids getting fed, then please go ahead with your decision, but I am not going to shut the salon.”
Both the Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, and the Governor, Greg Abbott, have called for Luther’s release. Congressman Dan Crenshaw, who represents the Houston area of Texas, had a stern rebuke to judges that would throw a mother in jail for trying to provide for her children and pay her employees.
While I understand rule of law and that violating a restraining order should certainly have consequences, including contempt of court, jail time, fines, or all of the above, in this case, issuing a restraining order against a woman operating a salon—abiding by the CDC guidelines of social distancing and wearing masks—went too far in the first place. To further punish Luther with jail time and a fine for contempt of court over the restraining order is akin to bringing an atomic bomb to a knife fight.
Rule of law is important, but so is common sense: Business owners are desperate to pay their rent, their employees, and their bills, so everyone can eat, pay their own bills, and try to move forward. Using the force of law that carries with it a domino effect of more and more consequences is extreme and unnecessary—especially in times like these. Now, Luther can’t work at all, neither can her employees, and she’s responsible for a hefty fine.
It’s one thing to issue stay-at-home orders for the safety of residents and it’s another to enact the excessive force of law enforcement and the judiciary over the opening of a beauty salon. Sure, what they did follows the letter of the law, but I’m not certain that should have ever been the appropriate course of action right now, given why Luther had reopened her salon and how she had been operating it—as carefully as possible.
A GoFundMe has been started for Luther, and has raised over $500,000.
COVID-19 has quite literally killed thousands of people and undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of loved ones are in mourning. But it has also crippled the US economy and we have barely scratched the surface of what the effects of that will be—from job loss and no health insurance, to closing down hospitals, restaurants, and schools because no one can pay their rent, to even depression and suicide—the aftermath will be awful and this is just a small example of it.