North Carolina bars will remain closed, judge rules

by John Trump

Raleigh, NC – Bars in North Carolina will remain closed, a judge ruled Friday, June 26.

photo by Jinnifer Douglass

The N.C. Bar and Tavern Association filed a lawsuit June 4 on behalf of 185 business owners after Gov. Roy Cooper shut them down March 17 because of worries over COVID-19. 

The association sought a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction that would allow them to reopen.

N.C. Business Court Judge James Gale said the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that they’re likely to succeed on a claim that the governor’s restriction on their ability to reopen before July 17 is unlawful. 

Thursday, Cooper extended his moratorium on bars and gyms for three more weeks. Business such as restaurants and distilleries with bars opened for table service five weeks ago, as part of Cooper’s phased reopening plan.

Cooper’s Executive Order 141 is unconstitutional, the lawsuit argued, citing the “Fruits of Your Labor” clause in the state’s constitution. That provision ensures “the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor” is an inalienable right for state residents. 

In his opinion, Gale wrote: “While the Governor’s choices may be debatable, at this time, the Court finds no adequate basis to conclude that Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on any claim that the Governor’s strategy in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic was sufficiently irrational so as to be outside the realm of reasonableness within which the law allows the Governor to act.”

A clock on the tavern association’s website is counting, up to the second, the time bars in North Carolina have been closed under Cooper’s orders: 100 days and 22 hours, as of this writing.

Cooper has twice vetoed bills from Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, seeking to reopen bars and gyms. 

Bar owners, the tavern association says in a news release, want the same chance to survive as wineries, breweries, and hotel bars, which reopened two months ago in the coronavirus pandemic.

 “The governor’s decision is effectively signing a death warrant for 1,063 bars across North Carolina while offering zero relief to the small-business owners or their employees,” said Zack Medford, president of the N.C. Bar and Tavern Association. “Asking private bar owners to lose everything they’ve worked for while their competitors can thrive is unconscionable. Enough is enough. This is an issue of fairness.”

Bar owners argue that crowds lined up to get into restaurant bars on Friday and Saturday nights could be mitigated if they had more places to drink while social distancing, as opposed to standing in line or overcrowding sidewalks.