LAWRENCE, Kan. — A curfew forcing the Sandbar and other bars to stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m. due to COVID restrictions is a violation of constitutional rights, a lawsuit claims.

According to a press release from the Kansas Justice Institute, a Lawrence-Douglas County local health officer, updated an emergency order requiring restaurants and bars to stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m. and to close their doors at midnight, regardless of the establishment’s existing COVID mitigation procedures and protocols. 

The owner of an iconic Lawrence tavern — The Sandbar — Peach Madl, is represented by KJI in her lawsuit against the Lawrence-Douglas County health officer for non-monetary relief. KJI — which, like the Sentinel is owned by the Kansas Policy Institute — claims in the lawsuit the order disregards Constitutional rights such as due process and equal protection. 

“Business owners should be afforded a due process hearing when an unelected, politically unaccountable health officer issues an order impacting their business,” Kansas Justice Institute Litigation Director Samuel MacRoberts said in a release. “It’s a matter of fairness. There’s no mechanism to challenge the restaurant and bar curfew order, and that should change.”

The latest health order prohibits a bar from utilizing outdoor seating after midnight but permits certain indoor restaurants to remain open. 

According to the release, KJI claims restaurant and bar owners in Douglas County are being denied their civil liberties, including the right to earn a living and to operate a commercial enterprise, without due process of law.

The Lawrence-Douglas Health Department has said businesses in violation of the health order may be closed, and individuals may be subject to a Class A misdemeanor, which could result in a fine of up to $2,500 and one year in jail.

Madl, the Sandbar owner, said this is about the survival of a business that has operated in Lawrence for more than 30 years.

“We have taken so many measures to prepare a safe social space,” Madl said in the release. “We all want the same thing, healthy and happy customers, but if we aren’t permitted to have normal hours soon, we might not ever get the chance to be a part of team Lawrence again.”

Not the first challenge

Multiple COVID-related health orders have been challenged in courts around the country dealing with the arbitrary nature of the orders, the process by which they were issued, and the lack of Constitutional rights to due process on behalf of those impacted. 

Indeed, earlier this year KJI successfully challenged a Linn County health officer’s order involving warrantless searches and seizures. 

Kansas Justice Institute sued in federal court, citing 4th Amendment violations, when Linn County issued an order requiring, among other things, that businesses “maintain the following information on each in-store customer which includes Customer Name, Phone Number, Date of Visit, Arrival Time and Departure Time. This information must be kept and made available to the Linn County Public Health Department upon request for the purposes of Contact Tracing for a minimum of 30 days from time of visit.”

The lawsuit was dismissed after Linn County rescinded the order.

“This case was about Linn County understanding that constitutional rights cannot be ignored,” MacRobersts said at the time. “Even during a pandemic, we’re happy to stand up with Kansans to protect their rights and liberties.”

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