A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order closing businesses during the pandemic, saying that the protesting businesses failed to show that the order was unconstitutional or placed an unfair burden upon them.
U.S. District Judge Lance Walker on Friday ruled against the businesses in favor of a motion to dismiss filed by the state on behalf of Mills in response to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor on May 8. Included among the plaintiffs is Rick Savage, the co-owner of Sunday River Brewing Co. of Bethel, who made national news when he read Gov. Janet Mills’ cellphone number during a Fox News appearance.
The lawsuit sought an injunction ordering the governor to allow businesses to reopen immediately and to lift the 14-day quarantine on people coming to Maine from out of state.
In his response Walker said that the plaintiffs failed to show how the executive order disproportionately targeted or damaged them and said that as state leaders, Mills — and state health officials ― have a constitutional right to act on behalf of public health and safety in emergencies such as the pandemic.
“It ought to be apparent to Plaintiffs that ‘police power is routinely exercised in this country without first conducting public or private hearings,’ and without offending the Constitution,” Walker wrote in a 22-page decision released on Friday. “The Supreme Court has long recognized that a state can avoid this close constitutional scrutiny of alleged violations of substantive due process during a public health crisis.”
The plaintiffs failed to state that Mills’ order went beyond any legitimate public health concerns, Walker wrote. Instead, they “only assert a liberty interest in their ability to run their respective businesses.”
“This collective crisis ought to have imposed a sense of collective humility given the long shadow cast by all that we do not know about the disease,” he wrote.
The lawsuit also lost meaning when Mills eventually relaxed the restrictions, Walker wrote.
Attorney Steve Smith, who represented the business owners, criticized Mills and state lawmakers in his response to the judge’s decision.
“The governor’s arbitrary rules have imposed great harm on our clients and this state that will be felt for years to come,” Smith said in an email. “The Legislature is equally to blame for abdicating its oversight role of the executive branch and allowing the governor to issue laws at her whim.”