Michigan Supreme Court vacates order telling Owosso barber to close

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Supreme canceled Friday a lower court's order that demanded Karl Manke immediately close his Owosso barbershop and sent Manke's case back to the state Court of Appeals for further consideration.

The decision by the state's high court came with only a concurring opinion written by Justice David Viviano in which he questioned initial handling of the case by a three-judge appeals court panel. 

"Courts decide legal questions that arise in the cases that come before us according to the rule of law," Viviano wrote. "One hopes that this great principle — essential to any free society, including ours — will not itself become yet another casualty of COVID-19."

Owner Karl Manke, left, cuts the hair of Jaimie Storey, of Midland, Tuesday.

On May 28, the Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision that Manke, who had continued cutting hair in defiance of restrictions from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration to stem the spread of COVID-19, had to cease his operations.

The next day, the court's two-judge majority ordered a Shiawassee County circuit court judge to tell Manke to close his business. Shiawassee County Circuit Judge Matthew Stewart issued an order May 29, saying the 77-year-old barber's shop "shall be locked and closed."

Manke's attorney, David Kallman, appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. And Manke has continued cutting hair.

On Friday, the Supreme Court vacated or revoked the orders from last week and sent the case back to the Michigan Court of Appeals for fuller consideration.

Viviano, a GOP-nominated justice, wrote the Court of Appeals had taken "the extraordinary step of directing the trial court to take immediate action despite the fact that an application for leave had already been filed in our Court."

The three-member Court of Appeals panel's majority decision for an immediate closure of Manke's barbershop over Judge Brock Swartzle's objection was "inexplicable," Viviano said. The court also decided the matter without a full briefing, he wrote.

Manke said this week that his shop had been visited by two agents of Attorney General Dana Nessel's office. The barber said he told them they looked like they needed a haircut.

"We're in a fifth round of a 10-round prize fight," Manke said last week. "I am still standing up. I have no intention of standing down.”