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SCOTUS Won’t Block New York’s Vaccine Mandate; Two Trump Justices Side With Liberals

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Supreme Court rejected efforts late on Monday to halt a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for health care workers in New York that does not offer an exemption for religious reasons.

The nation’s highest court received an emergency appeal filed by doctors, nurses, and other medical workers who say they are being forced to choose between their jobs and religious beliefs.

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“The application for injunctive relief presented to Justice Sotomayor and by her referred to the Court is denied,” the ruling states.

Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh — both conservatives appointed by President Donald Trump — joined Chief Justice John Roberts and the Supreme Court’s three progressives (Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) to uphold the state vaccine mandate.

Justice Neil Gorsuch — who was also appointed by President Trump — wrote the dissent.

“Facing the imminent loss of their jobs and unemployment benefits, the doctors and nurses before us filed two separate lawsuits seeking a preliminary injunction preventing New York from enforcing its new mandate against them,” Gorsuch wrote.

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“In the first suit, District Judge David Hurd granted the requested relief after concluding that New York’s ‘intentional change in language is the kind of religious gerrymander’ that violates the First Amendment. In the second suit, the District Court reached a contrary conclusion and denied relief without an opinion,” Gorsuch added.

“Under the Free Exercise Clause, government ‘cannot act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices,’” Gorsuch continued. “As a result, we have said that government actions burdening religious practice should be ‘set aside’ if there is even ‘slight suspicion’ that those actions ‘stem from animosity to religion or distrust of its practices.’”

“New York’s mandate is such an action,” he went on. “The State began with a plan to exempt religious objectors from its vaccine mandate and only later changed course. Its regulatory impact statement offered no explanation for the about-face. At the same time, a new Governor whose assumption of office coincided with the change in policy admitted that the revised mandate ‘left off’ a religious exemption ‘intentionally.’”

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“The Governor offered an extraordinary explanation for the change too. She said that ‘God wants people to be vaccinated—and that those who disagree are not listening to ‘organized religion’ or ‘everybody from the Pope on down.’ Then the new Governor went on to announce changes to the State’s unemployment scheme designed to single out for special disfavor healthcare workers who failed to comply with the revised mandate. This record gives rise to more than a ‘slight suspicion’ that New York acted out of ‘animosity [toward] or distrust of’ unorthodox religious beliefs and practices,” Gorsuch said.

“This record practically exudes suspicion of those who hold unpopular religious beliefs,” Gorsuch added. “That alone is sufficient to render the mandate unconstitutional as applied to these applicants.”

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