Court Battles

Supreme Court declines to block NY health worker vaccine mandate

A divided Supreme Court on Monday turned away a pair of religious-based requests to temporarily block New York state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers.

The order was unsigned, though the court’s three most conservative justices indicated they would have ruled for the religious-based objectors.

A group of doctors, nurses and health care personnel sought religious exemptions from the mandate New York enacted this summer in response to rising infection rates amid the coronavirus delta variant.

New York’s rule includes exemptions from the mandate for certain medical conditions, but provides for no religious exemptions. The objectors say taking the vaccines violates their religious beliefs due to the use of abortion-derived fetal cell lines for production or testing.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justice Samuel Alito, wrote separately to dissent from the court’s denial. Justice Clarence Thomas indicated he too would have granted the request.

“Thousands of New York healthcare workers face the loss of their jobs and eligibility for unemployment benefits. Twenty of them have filed suit arguing that the State’s conduct violates the First Amendment and asking us to enjoin the enforcement of the mandate” while the court considers a formal appeal, Gorsuch wrote. “Respectfully, I believe they deserve that relief.”

The challengers’ emergency request to the justices came after losing at the New York-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Their application was filed to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who referred the matter to the rest of the court.

The court’s move Monday follows a similar ruling in October in which a divided court left intact a vaccine requirement for Maine health care workers over a religious objection. That ruling also drew opposition from Gorsuch, Alito and Thomas.

Updated at 4 p.m.

Tags Clarence Thomas Coronavirus COVID-19 Neil Gorsuch New York Pandemic Samuel Alito Sonia Sotomayor vaccine mandate

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