Suits Target New Orleans Virus Rules, Some Affect Mardi Gras

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — More than 100 people have joined a lawsuit against New Orleans’ mayor and health director over COVID-19 restrictions that recently were extended to parade and other participants on Mardi Gras and during the season leading up to it.

The lawsuit against Mayor LaToya Cantrell and health director Jennifer Avegno targets mask and vaccination mandates, news outlets reported.

It was filed Monday in state court by Alexandria attorney Jimmy Faircloth, who has lost federal court challenges to restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocates noted.

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“Traditionally, we do not comment on active or pending litigation,” City Hall spokesman Beau Tidwell said during a news conference Tuesday. “However, in this case I think it’s worth noting that the guidelines that we put in place saved lives, full stop. The vaccine mandate and the mask requirements are going to remain in place throughout Mardi Gras.”

Fat Tuesday will be March 1 this year. The 2020 festival was later recognized as a super spreader that turned New Orleans into an early pandemic hot spot. Last season, parades were canceled and bars were shuttered in the city.

This year, masks are required in bars, restaurants and other public spaces. And children as young as 5 must show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for the virus to get into indoor public areas.

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The new lawsuit accuses Cantrell and Avegno, who often have gone beyond state restrictions, of taking “authoritarian actions under the pretext of an emergency without end,” the newspaper reported.

The plaintiffs, mostly from New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish, want Judge Robin Giarrusso to halt the requirements while the lawsuit is in court.

They say the mandates have kept them out of sporting events, restaurants, and other activities, and have caused social, economic and cultural harm to the city, WDSU-TV reported.

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Cantrell and Avegno have said the restrictions are needed to slow the spread of the virus. Most of Cantrell’s challengers in the November 2021 election argued that she went too far, but she won easily, the newspaper noted.

The lawsuit claims the mayor’s rules violate the state constitutional rights to privacy and equal protection. The vaccine mandate is “denying access to public accommodations and threatening criminal prosecution as a means to coerce consent to medical treatment,” it argues.

Faircloth was joined in the lawsuit by local lawyers Blake Arcuri and Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue

“The people of New Orleans and our children have endured nearly two years of unprecedented control from our so-called city leaders,” Rodrigue said in a statement. “What started as a temporary means to protect the community from unknown risks of a virus has turned into a circus of mandates that no longer make sense to any rational person. Enough is enough.”

Her father, former Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, is now a top aide to state Attorney General Jeff Landry, who tweeted on Tuesday that he is “closely monitoring” the suit and “exploring legal avenues to support the rule of law and the freedom of citizens.”

Faircloth represented bar owners who lost challenges to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ restrictions in 2020. In early January, the Louisiana Supreme Court rejected his two challenges to a vaccine mandate imposed by the state’s largest health care system.

Faircloth did not immediately respond to The Associated Press’ emailed query on Tuesday about whether those losses influenced the venue for his latest lawsuit.

He wasn’t involved in the case in which a federal judge ruled Friday that students who won an exemption to their medical school’s vaccine mandate still had to comply with its mask, testing and travel policies.

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