Supreme Court rejects Maine health workers' challenge to vaccine mandate

A divided Supreme Court on Friday left intact a vaccine requirement for Maine health care workers, rebuffing the latest legal challenge targeting COVID-19 vaccination mandates to reach the justices.

The challengers, a group of Maine health care workers, sought to block the requirement on religious grounds.

The statewide mandate announced in August by Gov. Janet MillsJanet MillsState resistance foils law changes, hampering PFAS suits The Hill's Morning Report - Voting rights takes center stage for Democrats Maine governor cites rising costs in veto of farmer unionization bill MORE (D), which applies to employees at hospitals, nursing homes and other health facilities, was set to take effect Friday.

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Three of the court’s more conservative justices — Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchBiden's Supreme Court choice: A political promise, but also a matter of justice Schumer finds unity moment in Supreme Court fight Manchin open to supporting Supreme Court pick more liberal than him MORE, Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasBiden's Supreme Court choice: A political promise, but also a matter of justice Manchin and Sinema must help Biden make the Supreme Court look more like America The Hill's Morning Report - Who will replace Justice Breyer? MORE and Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoWill the justices end race-based affirmative action?  Supreme Court just added affirmative action to its list of conservative unfinished business It's up to America's state courts to rescue democracy MORE — would have ruled in favor of the challengers.

The suit was brought by a Christian group called Liberty Counsel, which said it represented some 2,000 employees who opposed the mandate on religious grounds. Although medical exceptions to Maine's vaccine requirement are recognized, religious exemptions are not.

“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,” wrote Gorsuch, joined by the two other dissenters. “All for adhering to their constitutionally protected religious beliefs. Their plight is worthy of our attention. I would grant relief.”

Justice Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettBiden's Supreme Court choice: A political promise, but also a matter of justice The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats sense opportunity with SCOTUS vacancy Schumer finds unity moment in Supreme Court fight MORE, joined by fellow conservative justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSchumer finds unity moment in Supreme Court fight Manchin open to supporting Supreme Court pick more liberal than him Vaccine mandate for health workers starts to take effect MORE, wrote an opinion concurring in the court’s denial.

A federal judge in Maine earlier this month ruled against Liberty Counsel. Two days later, a Boston-based federal appeals court in a brief ruling affirmed the district judge, prompting the first of two applications the group filed to the Supreme Court.

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Justice Stephen BreyerStephen BreyerWhite House confirms Judge J. Michelle Childs under consideration for Supreme Court Photos of the Week: Breyer retirement, bridge collapse and White House cat Willow Senate panel delays confirmation hearing for circuit court nominee amid SCOTUS speculation MORE, who handles emergency requests from Maine, unilaterally denied the group’s first emergency request on Oct. 19, but did so “without prejudice,” giving the applicants the option to file another request if circumstances changed.

Breyer referred the group's second emergency application to the entire court, which led to Friday’s ruling rejecting its application.

The justices’ latest move comes after the court rebuffed similar challenges to vaccine mandates by New York City public school teachers and a group of students at Indiana University.