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Connecticut Supreme Court Upholds Bar Closures

  • The Connecticut Supreme Court unanimously upholds Gov. Ned Lamont’s authority to shut down bars in its decision on a legal challenge filed in June
  • The courts have backed Lamont in several other lawsuits filed against the governor to challenge his authority under emergency powers granted by a legislative committee
  • Bars in Connecticut have remained shuttered since the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring

The Connecticut Supreme Court has unanimously upheld Governor Ned Lamont’s authority to shut down bars during the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision marks the resolution of the last lawsuit filed against Lamont’s administration challenging his ability to levy business restrictions.

Kristine Casey filed a complaint against Lamont in June on behalf of herself and Casey’s Irish Pub, a small bar she owns in Milford that has been closed since March 16. The lawsuit states that Casey has not been able to find relief under business practices permitted by the state, such as outdoor dining or takeout, in part because it eliminates the pub atmosphere the business typically offers and because these options would not be economically sustainable. Casey says in the suit that she has been using personal funds and money borrowed from her father to keep up with business expenses amounting to about $14,000 a month.

The lawsuit, along with others filed with similar complaints, accuses Lamont of exceeding his authority by imposing business restrictions through dozens of executive orders issued in 2020. The court ruling, issued on New Year’s Eve, states that while Casey’s lawsuit raises “important questions regarding the governor’s authority in a pandemic,” it determined that Lamont’s actions have been constitutional.

A 10-member committee of the Connecticut General Assembly has twice granted Lamont emergency powers for a period of six months. The first vote in March was unanimous, while the second one in September was approved along a 6-4 partisan divide. The current declared state of emergency ends on Feb. 9, one month after the legislature reconvenes.

While Connecticut implemented a broad shutdown of businesses declared non-essential in the spring, it relaxed its rules over the summer and briefly advanced to Phase 3 of a reopening plan before an increase in COVID-19 cases forced a return to a modified version of Phase 2. While Phase 3 was originally supposed to allow the reopening of bars, Lamont has asked that they stay closed due to concerns that bars with insufficient space for social distancing have been responsible for outbreaks in other states. He also chastised “bars masquerading as restaurants” in October, saying establishments that don’t abide by restrictions could result in tougher rules overall.

Several states have reinstated tighter business restrictions as COVID-19 cases increase, and some medical professionals have called for Connecticut to do the same. Lamont has resisted these calls, saying he is trying to balance public health with preserving the state’s economy. Connecticut also launched two grant programs aimed at helping businesses until new PPP funding or the wider distribution of COVID-19 vaccines helps restore economic stability.

Casey’s lawsuit was the last COVID-19 related complaint filed against Lamont to be resolved in the courts. The other challenges included:

  • A suit filed by the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association in April seeking to reduce the state’s prison population to help limit the spread of the virus. The suit was dismissed later in the month.
  • A complaint in June by Roxy Nails Design LLC in Hartford and owner Luis Ramirez, which said the business had not been able to operate and challenged Lamont’s emergency powers authority. The suit was dismissed in October.
  • Another June complaint, filed by five businesses and GOP State Senator Robert Sampson, also challenging Lamont’s authority. The complaint was dismissed in December.
  • A lawsuit by the Connecticut Freedom Alliance, filed in August, seeking to overturn rules requiring schoolchildren to wear masks or other face coverings while attending in-person classes. The complaint was dismissed in December.
  • A complaint from three businesses, a woman fined under Connecticut’s travel restrictions, and Republican State Rep. Mike France challenging Lamont’s emergency powers authority. The suit was dismissed Dec. 23.

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