On May 1, 2020, businesses in Linn County, Kansas, received a note from the Linn County Health Department. It was an emergency order requiring businesses to keep a record of who visits their establishment and when.
Intended to help fight the coronavirus through contact tracing, the order applied to physicians, lawyers, banks, dentists, restaurants, and others. It stated Linn County officials can request the records and contact information of their customers at any time, for any reason.
After receiving the order, many businesses in Linn County were concerned that the government had overstepped its bounds. The Fourth Amendment was put in place to protect Americans from warrantless searches such as these. In times of crisis, however, it’s tempting for government institutions to curtail these freedoms in the name of security.
Thankfully for Linn County residents, the Kansas Policy Institute exists to protect Kansans’ constitutional rights and improve their quality of life. On May 10, the Kansas Justice Institute, the legal arm of Kansas Policy Institute, filed a lawsuit on behalf of two residents of Linn County—Jackie Taylor and Linda Jo Hisel. Jackie owns and publishes the Linn County News. Linda Jo owns and operates Nana Jo’s Cafe. Both believed the order was a violation of their rights. Linda Jo noted: “The people coming to my restaurant are practically family, and I shouldn’t be expected to keep tabs on them for the government.”
KJI filed a motion for a temporary restraining order against Linn County officials to prevent the county from moving forward with the unconstitutional order. The action caught the media’s attention: The Kansas City Star featured the case and Drudge Report picked it up on May 12.
On May 18, Linn County issued a new order that removed the requirement to record and disclose customer information. Thanks to KJI, residents like Jackie and Linda Jo were no longer subject to warrantless searches and government overreach.
Ellen Hathaway, communications director for the Kansas Policy Institute, added: “We are grateful to the two Linn County business owners, Jackie and Linda Jo, who were willing to take a stand and reached out to us for help. While safety precautions are necessary during a pandemic, we must keep our liberties intact. It’s important to push back when the government oversteps, as they did in Linn County.”
KPI’s work to protect Kansans earned them a nomination for the SPN’s Bob Williams Awards for Outstanding Policy Achievement, where they were then selected as a finalist in the Biggest Home State Win category.