Texas salon owner jailed for opening her business

I suppose we knew this was coming sooner or later. With frustration mounting around the nation among business owners over shutdown orders, one beauty salon operator in Texas publicly ripped up the court order the police gave her and reopened her business anyway. And now she’s being sent to jail. In addition to that, Shelley Luther has already racked up $3,500 in fines and more are being added by the day. Luther’s protests about being unable to feed her family or keep her workers out of the poor house fell on deaf ears as far as the judge was concerned. (Dallas News)

A Dallas salon owner will spend a week in jail after she was found in contempt of court Tuesday for violating a court order to close her salon during the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to the jail time, Shelley Luther was fined at least $3,500 for continuing to operate her business, Salon à la Mode, in violation of a temporary restraining order issued against the business.

Like other businesses deemed nonessential, Luther’s Far North Dallas salon was forced to close March 22 after Dallas County enacted its stay-at-home order. She reopened the salon on April 24 despite that order, and tore up a cease-and-desist letter from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins at a demonstration the following day.

It’s true that there were both state and local executive orders forcing nonessential businesses to remain closed. And as we’ve noted here before, the courts tend to uphold such executive actions during a declared state of emergency. But it’s also worth remembering that Ms. Luther was arrested for violating a “rule” that had never been approved by the legislatures at any level.

To be fair, the judge had previously offered to skip the jail time if Luther would issue a public apology and promise not to reopen her business until the mandatory lockdown ended. She declined the offer, saying that feeding her children and keeping her workers off the bread lines was more important. But still… this seems rather heartless on the part of the judge.

When you look at the particulars of the case, it seems unreasonable in the extreme that the court couldn’t have moderated their decision a bit, at least to the point where she could avoid jail time. When Luther reopened her salon, she took all of the precautions being mandated in many other states for businesses that wish to reopen. Less than 25% of her staff was working. Customers had to wait outside and not stand in groups until their stylist was ready for them. Both workers and customers had to wear masks. Work stations were being disinfected between each use and hand sanitizer was provided for everyone.

Luther had tried to play by the rules. When she was shut down in March, she applied for a federal loan from the government designed to help business owners in her position. But the loan never arrived until this past Sunday. Making the story even more sadly ironic was the fact that the judge issued his ruling only moments after Governor Greg Abbott announced that salons and barbershops would able to reopen this Friday.

As I’ve been saying since this entire catastrophe started, we’re witnessing a test of the limits of executive authority during a time of crisis. While the courts may be willing to play along, there is almost certainly a point beyond which the people will rebel. Shelley Luther rebelled and will now sit in a jail cell as a result. The question is, how much of this type of authoritarian strongarming are the citizens of the country willing to tolerate? I get the feeling that if too many more people like Ms. Luther wind up behind bars, it’s going to start getting seriously ugly out there.