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The Case of the Owosso Barber Raised Questions over Our System

Updated: Apr 5, 2022

An analysis on the case of Karl Manke

"Karl Manke, 77, waves to supporters outside of his barbershop on West Main Street in Owosso Monday. Manke opened his barbershop and has hired Kallman Legal Group as his legal counsel because he was charged with criminal misdemeanor violations for allegedly violating Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders".Nic Antaya, Special to The Detroit News

On Jun. 5, the Michigan Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, nullified the Michigan Court of Appeals’ decision to reconsider Karl Manke’s case back in May.

The case of the Owosso barber raised debates and questions over the interpretation of our Constitution and political system.

Karl Manke, a 77-year-old barber in Owosso, MI, reopened his barber shop despite Governor Whitmer’s orders to close all barber shops in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On May 13, after a majority decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals, both Manke’s shop and his professional license were suspended without a notice and hearing.

Following the suspension, many showed their support for Manke by demonstrating in front of the Michigan State Capitol a week later; some barbers and hairstylists voiced their defiance through giving free haircuts during the demonstration.

Later, Manke and his attorney David Kallman decided to appeal his case to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Manke’s case poses several dilemmas existent within our political system:

In face of a pandemic, should our system value the common good at the expense of individual rights? And is it considered a violation of equal rights if some businesses are allowed to stay open while some are not during a pandemic?

The fifth amendment of the Constitution states that “No person shall be...deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

In times without a pandemic or other emergency situations, Manke’s abrupt suspension of license without a hearing and notice could be considered a violation of this amendment – depending on the interpretation of the Constitution. However, whether a pandemic or other emergency situation should change decision making circumstances remains in question.

While it is true that civil rights have been suspended during wartimes in American history, such as the enforcement of the Sedition Acts and executive order 9066, the constitutionality of such suspension of rights still remains in question.

Even though the Supreme Court had upheld some of the violations of human rights in the past, as seen by how it upheld the executive order 9066 in the case of Korematsu vs United States, today’s climate for civil rights is much more different than that of the past.

A pandemic shouldn’t be held to the same standard as a war regarding judging the constitutionality of suspending certain rights due to potential public risks.

Financial difficulties are the primary concern for Manke and others who desire to reopen businesses. However, the question of whether public health or unemployment should remain a priority sparks another common good vs individualism debate.

If public health is the primary concern, businesses like barber shops should be forcibly closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

This would be a case where common good is valued above individual rights – as public health is protected at the expense of financial incomes of certain individuals. In contrast, if individual rights are valued above the common good, then the government should not have the right to forcibly shut down certain businesses.

Should we let the government suspend some of our rights for the common good? This remains a hot question worth debate.

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