Texas salon owner Shelley Luther has been ordered released from jail after the governor and attorney general protested her imprisonment over violating the state’s lockdown and modified the shutdown orders to exclude imprisonment.
Luther, who became a symbol of the movement to end Texas’ lockdown when she was arrested for refusing to shutter her Dallas salon despite a district judge’s restraining order, was ordered released from jail on Thursday by the Texas Supreme Court after serving two days of a seven-day sentence.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick personally paid the $7,000 fine the judge had imposed on Luther in addition to her confinement.
Hours before her release, Texas Governor Greg Abbott altered the executive order he had issued in March that mandated the closure of “non-essential” businesses to remove imprisonment as a penalty. It had previously allowed judges to whack violators with up to 180 days in jail. Abbott had issued a statement specifically condemning Luther’s imprisonment on Wednesday after state Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote to the sentencing judge calling the salon owner’s punishment “a shameful abuse of judicial discretion” and “a political stunt.”
“Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen,” Abbott wrote in the modification of his executive order, mentioning Luther by name as well as two Laredo residents – Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata – who were arrested last month by undercover officers for merely offering in-home salon services on social media.
Hair salons in Texas are legally permitted to reopen on Friday as the state gradually comes out of its coronavirus-induced suspended animation, but Luther explained she had no choice but to reopen hers in late April after her family ran out of money. While acknowledging the family weren’t exactly starving before the statewide shutdown, her husband –a musician by trade– told local media that had she not reopened the salon, they would have been unable to pay May’s rent, as the pandemic response had put them both out of work.
District Judge Eric Moyé imposed a temporary restraining order on Luther’s business in late April, just a few days after she reopened Salon à la Mode, which had been closed since March in accordance with state orders. A visit from a city inspector and a cease-and-desist order from a county judge followed, though Luther insisted she was implementing safety protocols, including keeping customers six feet apart and only permitting those indoors who were receiving services. She infamously tore up the order at a protest, declaring that anyone who “wants to take away” one’s “rights to feed your children and make income” is “wrong.”
Paxton, the state attorney general, told Fox News that “public pressure” was key to getting lockdowns lifted across the country, pointing out that prisons and jails across the country are releasing “thousands of convicted felons” out of concern one might contract the coronavirus. Dallas alone has released “around 1,000 inmates,” the AG observed on Twitter, complaining “working mom Shelley Luther is still locked up for trying to feed her family.”
Luther’s case has become a lightning rod for controversy as conservatives demand the country reopen for business immediately and liberals insist lockdowns continue. While Texas and other states have begun the slow process of reopening their economies, other states – including California and pandemic epicenter New York – look to remain locked down for the considerable future.