New Orleans’ COVID-19 mandates stay at least through Mardi Gras, after state Supreme Court denies restraining order, direct lawsuit hearing
Suit against Mayor Cantrell, Dr. Avegno set to go before district court March 3
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The vaccination and indoor masking mandates instituted by New Orleans city officials will remain in effect at least through Mardi Gras, after the Louisiana Supreme Court denied requests for a temporary restraining order and an expedited hearing on a lawsuit challenging the rules.
More than 100 plaintiffs opposed to the mandates last month sued Mayor LaToya Cantrell, the New Orleans Health Department, and that agency’s leader Dr. Jennifer Avegno, accusing them of violating their constitutional rights with restrictions the officials say have curbed the spread of coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease it spawns.
The petition says the plaintiffs have “endured nearly two years of unprecedented executive control during the COVID-19 pandemic. What started as a temporary means to protect the community from unknown risks has turned into perpetual, unlawful overreach.”
The plaintiffs are represented by Alexandria-based attorney Jimmy Faircloth, who earlier this year led unsuccessful challenges against Ochsner Health’s employee vaccination mandate on behalf of health care workers in Shreveport and Lafayette.
The New Orleans-based Rodrigue & Arcuri law group is assisting with the legal challenge locally, including last Tuesday’s filing that asked the state’s highest court to impose a temporary restraining order against the city restrictions and for Supreme Court justices to take up the lawsuit directly, without waiting for lower courts to rule.
Those requests were denied late Friday, and the first hearing on the suit was rescheduled for March 3 -- two days after Mardi Gras -- before Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Rachael Johnson. Both sides agreed to bypass a hearing on a preliminary injunction, so that Johnson can proceed directly to arguments and a decision whether to order a permanent injunction against the city mandates.
“While we are disappointed that the Louisiana Supreme Court did not recognize the immediate and irreparable harm being caused to the families and children of Louisiana in this unprecedented mandate overreach, we look forward to presenting evidence and argument in this case,” plaintiffs attorney Laura Rodrigue said. “The people of Louisiana have had enough. We certainly hope that the court will stand up for our children, our families and our businesses.”
The Cantrell administration for weeks has said the mandates would remain through Mardi Gras, applying to residents as well as to hundreds of thousands of visitors expected over these final 2 1/2 weeks of the Carnival season.
The lawsuit still could be rendered moot if the city were to drop the mandates March 2, the day after Fat Tuesday and the day before the scheduled court hearing.
“We would essentially have no course of action left,” Rodrigue said. “Of course we hope that that happens.”
City Hall spokesman Beau Tidwell on Sunday declined comment on the Supreme Court decision allowing the rules to stand, as well as on whether the city is committed to extending the mandates beyond March 1.
“The vaccination and masking requirements will remain in place through Mardi Gras,” Tidwell said. “We have no further comment at this time.”
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