News & Politics

Michigan Barber Wins in Court Against Gov. Whitmer: 'Health Department Failed to Show Threat'

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Karl Manke, the 77-year-old folk-hero barber who stood up against the empress governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, has been vindicated in court. A judge ruled on Thursday that the health department failed to show that Manke’s business cutting hair was a specific threat to public health.

Manke faced incredible harassment, including police intimidation and losing his license. Not even that stopped him. The Washington Times reported Manke’s reaction.

Manke, 77, has received at least two tickets for violating Whitmer’s orders, and his barber license was suspended last week. Nonetheless, he said he’s still cutting hair – “Oh, heavens yes” – including the hair of a squirming 2-year-old Thursday.

“Listen, I’ve been in this business for 59 years. She wants to come cut my hands off, that’s another story,” Manke said in an interview, referring to the governor.

Michiganders watched the barber fight for his livelihood online

Earlier, a judge held a hearing via video conference on the Whitmer administration’s request for an injunction to close the shop. More than 400 people watched online as the state argued that Manke was violating health department orders.

“People can’t simply say, ‘I don’t agree’ and do whatever they want,” Assistant Attorney General Joseph Potchen said. “It’s not how our legal system works.”

It seems that the sheriff’s decision not to arrest Manke hurt the state’s case that he was a threat to public health. When the order to arrest him went out, the sheriff refused to comply because militia members were blocking the entrance of the barbershop and said they would resist any attempt to arrest Manke. Sheriff Brian BeGole made a statement to the press that PJ Media reported.

Sheriff Brian BeGole also issued a statement Monday saying he would not enforce the Attorney General’s order to shut down the shop. “With limited resources, staffing and facilities, our priority focus will be on enforcing duly passed laws for the protection of Shiawassee County citizens,” BeGole wrote. “I have decided, within my authority, that our office cannot and will not divert our primary resources and efforts towards enforcement of Governor Whitmer’s executive orders.”

BeGole made the wise choice to leave it alone and that choice had an impact on the ruling, as reported in the Washington Times.

But Stewart said photos and an affidavit from Michigan’s chief medical executive weren’t enough to show that hair cutting and the shop conditions would contribute to the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19.

“That’s not enough to tip the scales, no matter how great the public emergency,” said Stewart, who nonetheless called it a “close call.”

He repeatedly noted that authorities could have arrested Manke if they believed his shop was a steady danger.

Manke’s attorney wisely pressed the government to prove that the barbershop was contributing to the spread of coronavirus, as the burden of proof rests with the state to show evidence of the public health threat. They could not.

“You can’t just argue COVID is awful, it’s killing people. Who disputes that?” Manke’s attorney, Dave Kallman, said later. “They have to show the barbershop is spreading the virus. The judge saw it clearly.”

While Manke’s case was in court, Whitmer lifted restrictions on more parts of Michigan’s economy, although barber shops and hair salons weren’t included.

With his outspoken, gregarious style, Manke has become a hero to some people. He cut hair for free Wednesday during a protest at the Capitol.

Barber tells his story of courage and victory

Manke is a hero. He stood against unlawful and unreasonable orders issued by an out-of-control and power-hungry governor and he won. This is what every business owner should do right now. Open your business, stand up for your rights, and hire a great lawyer to defend you if the government tries to stop you. Have you figured out yet that what they are doing is indefensible?

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Megan Fox is the author of “Believe Evidence; The Death of Due Process from Salome to #MeToo,” and host of The Fringe podcast. Follow on Twitter @MeganFoxWriter