In April, police officers located Lisa Hanson in Clear Lake, Iowa about 40 miles south of the restaurant she owns.
Officers placed her under arrest and transported her for booking. Hanson, who had not appeared for a March 10 court date, was released a few hours later. She admitted to one local news station that the experience was “unpleasant and scary.”
Hanson’s crime? She kept her restaurant—The Interchange Wine & Coffee Bistro—open in December against the order of Governor Tim Walz, who in mid November had issued a new lockdown on bars and restaurants, gyms, sports, and social gatherings. Walz’s order did not prohibit liquor stores, barber shops, salons, and retail businesses from operating.
Hanson publicly said she believed the order was unfair and a violation of her constitutional rights.
“We knew right away that it was wrong what the government was doing to us,” Hanson said following her arrest.
Eight months later, Hanson had her day in court. Last week the jury, after deliberating for an hour, found her guilty of six criminal misdemeanor charges. Judge Joseph Bueltel handed Hanson a 90-day jail sentence and fined her $1,000 in a blistering denunciation.
"You wanted to make money over the interest of public safety," he said. "You don't recognize the law. You don't think you're subject to the law.”
‘If We Don’t Stand Up’
Judge Bueltel is right that Hanson was trying to make money. But is that a crime?
Unlike Hanson, Judge Bueltel was allowed to work during the pandemic. He received a regular paycheck. It’s quite possible he saw his home appreciate in value and his portfolio swell, like so many other “essential” workers did during the pandemic.
Hanson, on the other hand, was on the wrong side of the pandemic.
In July, I interviewed Carol Roth, author of The War on Small Business, who chronicled the devastating impact lockdowns had on a particular demographic in America: small business owners. Citing figures from the Biden Administration, Roth says no fewer than 400,000 small businesses went under during the pandemic—and likely far more.
Hanson’s “crime” was attempting to avoid the same fate as these 400,000 small businesses. Many Minnesota restaurants saw revenues fall 70-90 percent during lockdowns, and she determined her restaurant couldn’t survive another one.
But Hanson’s comments also suggest there was something more than restaurant revenue driving her decision making.
"If we don't stand up and do something about this, we will not have an America,” Hanson said following her arrest.
A Perversion of the Law
Judge Bueltel rebuked Hanson for believing she was not subject to “the law,” but he failed to recognize that the governor's order had itself exceeded its moral bounds.
In his classic work The Law, French economist Frédéric Bastiat explained how the modern state often commits the very evil it was designed to prevent “under the pretense of organization, regulation, [or] protection…”
"The law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense,” Bastiat wrote, “…to do only what the individual forces have a natural and lawful right to do: to protect persons, liberties, and properties…to cause justice to reign over us all.”
Unfortunately, Bastiat noted, many use the law “in direct opposition to its own purpose.”
“The law has been used to destroy its own objective: It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain; to limiting and destroying rights which its real purpose was to respect...to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others,” Bastiat continued.
History reminds us that humans have consistently used the law over and over to “destroy rights” just as Bastiat describes. As FEE’s Lawrence Reed has shown, many of the most memorable events in history have involved people defying unjust acts of the state.
From Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt to escape the Slaughter of Innocents in the Book of Matthew to Robert the Bruce defying the pope, to American patriots defying King George III’s taxes, Rosa Parks standing against Jim Crow laws in Alabama, and Gandhi's famous Salt March, history is replete with examples of people courageously standing against unjust laws and the power of the state.
Indeed, the American system was designed to disperse power through checks and balances and other mechanisms to protect individual rights, limit such legal abuses, and curb executive power when it exceeds its moral bounds.
Judge Bueltel’s claim that the governor’s order was legal carries no more moral weight (and far less legal weight) than the Supreme Court’s 1896 decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson that claimed government-imposed racial segregation was constitutional so long as it was “equal.”
Fortunately, the story appears unlikely to end with Bueltel’s decision. The restaurant’s Facebook page has already announced that Hanson intends to appeal the decision.
“Just because she has been found guilty doesn't mean that this fight is over,” a post reads on the Interchange’s Facebook page. “This is now being taken to a federal level. [Her representatives] will be personally delivering paperwork in St. Paul tomorrow and the hope is that Lisa will be released soon while the appeal process moves forward.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up on behalf of Hanson to help with legal fees. The page had received $36,530 as of Monday morning toward its $100,000 goal.
I, for one, intend to make a donation.