Supreme Court authorizes vaccination warrant for New York healthcare workers

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WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday refused to block New York’s requirement that healthcare workers be vaccinated against the coronavirus even when citing religious objections.

As is often the practice of the court in decisions on emergency applications, his unsigned order did not include any reasoning. But Judge Neil M. Gorsuch filed a 14-page dissent saying the majority had betrayed the court’s commitment to religious freedom.

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined Judge Gorsuch’s dissent. Judge Clarence Thomas also said he would have blocked the vaccine requirement, but gave no reason.

In October, the Supreme Court refused to grant relief to Maine healthcare workers who made an essentially identical claim in a challenge to a similar state requirement, despite dissent from the same three. judges.

The court also dismissed challenges to vaccination requirements at Indiana University, for staff in the New York City school system and for workers at a Massachusetts hospital. The court also dismissed a challenge to a federal mandate requiring masks for air travel.

All of these decisions were rendered by a single judge, which may indicate that the legal issues at stake were not considered to be substantial. But these rulings of one justice did not involve religion.

In his dissent on Monday in the New York case, Judge Gorsuch wrote that the practical consequences of the court’s ruling would be serious.

“Thousands of New York health care workers are facing the loss of their jobs and their unemployment benefit eligibility,” he wrote.

“These applicants are not ‘anti-vaccines’ who oppose all vaccines,” added Judge Gorsuch. “Instead,” explain the applicants, “they cannot receive a Covid-19 vaccine because their religion teaches them to oppose abortion in any form, and because each of the vaccines currently available has depended on fetal cell lines derived from abortion in its production or testing. “

“The free exercise clause not only protects the right to hold unpopular religious beliefs internally and secretly,” he wrote. “It protects the right to live these beliefs in public. “

The move came amid two challenges filed by doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who said the demand violated their right to the free exercise of religion. They argued that the availability of a medical exemption meant the state discriminated against religious practice, citing Supreme Court rulings overturning limits on religious gatherings that majority judges said were more restrictive than those imposed on gatherings. secular.

A federal judge in Brooklyn ruled against the challengers in the case before him, but another federal judge, in Utica, ruled for the challengers in a second case.

In a joint appeal in the two cases, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, New York, refused to block the requirement.

“Faced with a particularly contagious variant of the virus in the midst of a pandemic that has now claimed more than 750,000 lives in the United States and some 55,000 in New York, the state has urgently decided to require the vaccination of all employees of healthcare facilities who could be infected and expose others to the virus, as long as they can be safely vaccinated, ”wrote a unanimous panel of three appeals court judges in a no signed. “This was a reasonable exercise of the state’s rule-making power to protect public health.”

In an emergency request Calling on the Supreme Court to intervene, lawyers for healthcare workers wrote that the demand “imposes an impermissible choice on New York healthcare workers: give up their faith or lose their careers and their best means of providing for them. their family’s needs ”.

Barbara D. Underwood, Solicitor General of New York, responded that the state does not allow religious exemptions for its long-standing requirements for measles and rubella. The medical exemption for the vaccination requirement, she added, “is narrowly limited in both scope and duration”, making very few people eligible.

Overall, she wrote, “achieving high immunization rates in particularly vulnerable settings is of the utmost importance.”

In his dissent, Justice Gorsuch wrote that protecting religious freedom warrants a different approach.

“Today we don’t just fail candidates,” he wrote. “We are failing ourselves.”

“We allow the state to insist on the layoff of thousands of medical workers – the same people New York has depended on and hired for their pandemic frontline service for the past 21 months,” the judge wrote. Gorsuch. “To add insult to injury, we are allowing the state to deny these people unemployment benefits as well. One can only hope that today’s decision will not be the final chapter in this dark history.

Gorsuch J. used a similar reasoning in the Maine case.

“Where many other states have enacted religious exemptions, Maine has charted a different course,” Justice Gorsuch wrote at the time. “There, healthcare workers who have served on the front lines of a pandemic for the past 18 months are now being laid off and their practices closed. All for adhering to their constitutionally protected religious beliefs. Their plight deserves our attention.


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