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Judge sides with Sisolak order on bar closures

Updated August 17, 2020 - 9:44 pm

A Clark County district court judge rebuffed a lawsuit seeking to undo the state-ordered closure of bars and taverns in the county to fight the spread of COVID-19, ruling Monday that the edict does not violate the equal protection or due process rights of the 62 businesses that sued to overturn it.

Judge Kerry Earley’s decision upholds Gov. Steve Sisolak’s July 10 directive closing establishments that exclusively serve alcohol.

Although bar and tavern businesses “contribute to both the economic welfare of the community and substantial employment of the members of the community, economic rights, such as alleged by Plaintiffs, are not recognized as fundamental constitutional rights,” the judge wrote in her decision.

The claim of a due process violation fell flat because the plaintiffs did not show how the directive was arbitrary and unreasonable, with no bearing on public health, safety or welfare.

The judge, however, rejected the state’s contention that emergency directives from the governor can never be subject to judicial review, ruling that what constitutes an emergency and how to address it “are not pure policy choices that fall within the doctrine of non-justiciable political questions.”

Bars in Nevada were first closed in March, along with other nonessential businesses, but given the green light to reopen May 29 under the state’s phased recovery plan. Sisolak reinstated the closures in select counties in July to combat a monthlong rapid rise in Nevada’s COVID-19 infection rate.

In a hearing last week, lawyers said the governor’s subsequent statements about the bar closings not being “the fairest way” to respond to the heightened COVID risk were an admission by the governor that the directive had been improperly imposed.

Since the July 10 directive, the state has implemented a new grading criteria for reopening closed businesses and lifting other COVID-related restrictions in counties with heightened risk of infection spread. Bars in four counties — Clark, Elko, Nye and Washoe — remain closed pending the state’s next weekly review, which is Thursday.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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