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Federal judge mulls whether Michigan's temporary ban on indoor dining should remain in place

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

A federal judge is weighing whether to strike down Michigan’s ban on indoor dining after a hearing Monday. A decision isn't expected until Tuesday evening, at the earliest.

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association is suing to get a state ban on indoor dining lifted. A temporary three week ban on indoor dining was put in place two weeks ago as COVID-19 cases began to surge.

Restaurant industry attorney Kelli Mulder told a federal judge that “constitutional liberties need to be protected...even in a time of pandemic.”

Mulder told the court that the industry recognizes that the pandemic is not over, but she argues after nine months the state “should have come up with something better.”

Representing the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon, attorney Neil Giovanatti says, given the science, “indoor dining is inherently dangerous in a time of covid”.

Giovanatti conceded that Michigan’s restaurant and bar industry is “hurting right now.”      

“The quicker we can get rid of the virus, the quicker restaurants and bars can open to full capacity without any restrictions what so ever,” says Giovanatti.

But that will likely be many months away.   New COVID vaccines are not expected to be widely available until next spring or summer.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Maloney noted that the current ban on indoor dining terminates after December 8, but could be extended.

The judge’s decision could affect whether many Michigan bars and restaurants will survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent ruling by the United States Supreme Court may play a role in the judge’s decision.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court barred New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by the virus.

The justices split 5-4 Wednesday night, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the majority. It was the conservative’s first publicly discernible vote as a justice. The court’s three liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts dissented.

The Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America have churches and synagogues in areas of Brooklyn and Queens previously designated red and orange zones. In those red and orange zones, the state had capped attendance at houses of worship at 10 and 25 people, respectively. But those particular areas are now designated as yellow zones with less restrictive rules neither group challenged.

The justices acted on an emergency basis, temporarily barring New York from enforcing the restrictions against the groups while their lawsuits continue. In an unsigned opinion the court said the restrictions “single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
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