Did Cooper’s Covid lockdowns violate the NC Constitution? Court of Appeals says yes, and no

RALEIGH, N.C. (WRAL) – North Carolina’s mandatory business closures in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic were partially unconstitutional, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

WRAL reports that the case is a long-running lawsuit brought by an advocacy group for bars, the NC Bar and Tavern Association. They acknowledged that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper had the authority to issue widespread lockdown orders to protect public health at the start of the pandemic when dozens of North Carolinians were dying every week. But once Cooper allowed restaurants to partially reopen but kept bars closed, they claimed in the lawsuit, he violated their rights.

In a partial win for Cooper, the ruling Tuesday shot down many of the claims that the bars made about constitutional violations, largely cutting the bar owners off from several opportunities for financial compensation from the state government. But the judges did rule in favor of the bars on one key claim: That Cooper’s decision to start treating bars differently from restaurants lacked enough scientific evidence to justify. He therefore improperly deprived them of the opportunity to make a living, as is guaranteed in the state constitution, the judges wrote.

The 3-0 ruling, from a panel of three Republican judges on the Court of Appeals, will send the case back to trial unless either side appeals to the Supreme Court. Representatives for Cooper and for the bars didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.