‘It is or it isn’t’: Constitutional law expert weighs legality of Knox County bar and restaurant curfew

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Is the Knox County Board of Health regulation, closing all businesses that serve alcohol by 11 p.m. constitutional?

Likely, you’ve asked or heard this question asked since COVID-19 began to spread within the U.S., and more specifically, throughout East Tennessee. It may feel like Ground Hog Day, the same question asked and answered over and over — but there’s a reason why.

To start: Health and local leaders are learning more about COVID-19 everyday. Contact tracing plays a big part in that, as well as the experience of other cities and states in the U.S.

There is more known about the spread of COVID-19 in September than there was in March. Which means, decisions, like those regulations made by the Knox County Board of Health, should reflect that.

“It is or it isn’t. The government has a lot of power in dealing with a crisis like a pandemic to exercise a lot of discretion. However, at the very least, everything the government does, even when it doesn’t implicate any specific constitutional rights, everything they do has to be reasonably related to a legitimate government,” said Glenn Reynolds, a Law Professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law.

If it seems like the rules keep changing, that’s because, they do. More information leads Knox County leaders to new regulation.

“We’ve never said that we’ve had actual cases tracked back to bars what we are looking at and thinking about is the activity and the behavior in bars and restaurants and with drinking alcohol,” said Charity Menefee on Thursday, a spokesperson for the Knox County Health Department.

Menefee explains that although there are not clusters linked to bars or restaurants in Knox County, local contact tracing and information from other cities show that a curfew may help slow the spread of COVID-19 within Knox County.

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