Months before COVID-19 cases surged to record highs last year, Shelley Luther was fighting to keep her Dallas salon open despite safety guidelines. She had torn up a cease-and-desist order from Dallas County, and soon was fined $7,000 and sentenced to seven days in jail.
Almost a year later, the Texas Supreme Court concluded Friday morning that the county’s order was too vague to enforce, and voided the order holding her in contempt of court.
“The temporary restraining order failed to set forth the conduct required and the legal basis for its issuance in clear, specific, and unambiguous terms,” the court decision said.
Luther’s case had captured nationwide attention as top Republicans in the state worked to petition against the county’s orders. She appeared on "The View" and headlined rallies across the state while receiving half a million dollars in crowdfunding. The conservative support led her to a run for state Senate, where she lost to state Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, by 13 percentage points in December.
Luther was operating her salon, Salon a la Mode, in blatant defiance of state orders last April, as Gov. Greg Abbott had announced hair salons and barbershops would have to remain closed. Even now, updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say those providing services to clients in hair salons are at risk for contracting COVID-19.
Days before the hearing in Dallas County, Luther had received $18,000 in refundable loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, a sum that could have helped cover costs during the pandemic. But she would later say she wasn’t sure how she was allowed to spend it and felt she couldn’t risk closing.
“I am not going to shut the salon,” she had told the judge.
Luther’s vocal opposition drew in Abbott’s team, which reached out to her and asked for guidance on salons opening sooner, according to previous reporting by The Texas Tribune.
About a week later, Abbott allowed salons to reopen. But Luther was in jail. The sentence had come from District Judge Eric Moyé, who made a contempt of court judgement after she ignored his original temporary restraining order.
Before he issued the judgement, Moyé said he would consider giving only a fine and allowing her to avoid jail time if she pledged not to reopen her salon until emergency orders were lifted. In a Facebook video, Luther said that if she had to “go to jail to prove a point that what they’re doing is totally unconstitutional, then that’s what happens.”
Texas Republicans took a range of actions to support her. Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote a direct appeal to the Dallas judge, claiming Moyé had abused his discretion and should immediately order Luther’s release. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick offered to pay Luther’s fine and serve seven days of house arrest in place of her jail sentence.
Abbott soon removed enforcement mechanisms from his executive order and said confinement could no longer be a penalty for not following COVID-19 safety restrictions.