Barrett and Kavanaugh side with libs, SCOTUS wont block vax mandate for healthcare workers, rejects religious exemptions

The Supreme Court stunningly rejected an emergency appeal from Maine healthcare workers, based on their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, to block a COVID vaccine mandate that went into effect on Friday.

Maine requires that healthcare workers all be vaccinated against a long list of diseases including COVID-19. According to The New York Times, in 2019 a law was passed that disallowed religious exemptions that would have circumvented the requirement.

The ruling was split 6 to 3 with Chief Justice John Roberts, Amy Coney Barrett, and Brett Kavanaugh voting with liberal justices against religious exemptions. Roberts and the three liberal justices did not author an opinion on the ruling. However, Barrett was joined by Kavanaugh in noting that the ruling to not grant injunctive relief on the vaccine mandate was at least partially due to the request coming via the “emergency docket” also known as the “shadow docket.”

A “shadow docket” hears emergency petitions without arguments and the high court is not required to issue explanations for why it granted or denied relief. Barrett contended that issuing an injunction “on a short fuse without benefit of full briefing and oral argument” would be inappropriate in this case. Her stance hints at her being open to ruling against the mandate if it came through the regular docket.

She stated that the court has “discretionary judgment” on whether to take emergency appeals such as this one and claimed they were being asked to “grant extraordinary relief.” Barrett also denied an appeal from students at Indiana University to block that school’s vaccine mandate in August.

Constitutional originalist Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas all dissented in the matter. Gorsuch made his opinion clear.

“This case presents an important constitutional question, a serious error, and an irreparable injury,” Gorsuch wrote. “Where many other States have adopted religious exemptions, Maine has charted a different course. There, healthcare workers who have served on the front line of a pandemic for the last 18 months are now being fired and their practices shuttered. All for adhering to their constitutionally protected religious beliefs.”

“Yet, with Maine’s new rule coming into effect, one of the applicants has already lost her job for refusing to betray her faith; another risks the imminent loss of his medical practice,” he added.

Gorsuch also stated that Maine’s decision to deny a religious exemption “borders on the irrational” and that the state had failed to present any evidence that granting the religious exemption “would threaten its stated public health interests any more than its medical exemption already does.”

“Their plight is worthy of our attention,” Gorsuch wrote. “I would grant relief.”

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills was the one who ordered Maine’s vaccine mandate. A federal judge in Maine declined to stop it, concluding that a lawsuit was unlikely to succeed, according to Fox News. The Oct. 13 decision prompted appeals that landed, for a second time, on the docket of the Supreme Court.

More than 2,000 unvaccinated healthcare workers were represented in the ensuing lawsuit by The Liberty Counsel. The healthcare workers argued that the vaccine mandate violates the Constitution and Title VII, which is a federal civil rights law that bars employment discrimination based on religion. While Maine offers a limited exemption in some medical instances, it does not consider requests for religious objections.

The ruling stirred anger on social media:


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