- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied an emergency bid to block enforcement of New York's coronavirus vaccine mandate for health care workers.
- The legal challenge was filed by a group of 20 doctors and nurses who argued that the state's vaccine mandate violates the First Amendment to the Constitution because it fails to include a religious exemption.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied an emergency bid to block enforcement of New York's coronavirus vaccine mandate for health care workers.
The legal challenge was filed by a group of 20 doctors and nurses who argued that the state's vaccine mandate violates the First Amendment to the Constitution because it fails to include a religious exemption.
The request for a temporary injunction had been presented to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is assigned to handle cases from New York. The court denied that request in a one-line order that did not provide any reasoning or explanation.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito — three of the court's six-member conservative majority — said in the order that they would have granted the bid to block the mandate.
The ruling comes amid reports that some health care providers have opted not to enforce vaccine requirements for their workers, as they grapple with labor shortages that existed even before the Covid pandemic began.
In a 14-page dissent, Gorsuch said New York's mandate "falters at each step" to show that it is narrowly written to serve a compelling state interest.
In November, the petitioners had asked the Supreme Court to temporarily block "New York's ban on religious exemptions for healthcare workers opposed to mandatory COVID vaccination," or to temporarily block the rule and then take up the case for briefing and oral argument.
In a court brief responding to the health care workers, New York Attorney General Letitia James denied that the emergency vaccine rule shows any hostility toward religious beliefs.
"The rule's medical exemption is tightly constrained in both scope and duration," James wrote, "and it serves rather than undermines the rule's objective of protecting the health of healthcare workers."
Gorsuch in his dissent noted that while the proposed vaccine mandate under former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a religious exemption, it was cut after Cuomo resigned and was replaced by Kathy Hochul.
Gorsuch, who was nominated to the high court by former President Donald Trump, wrote disdainfully of Hochul's remarks at a Christian cultural center in Brooklyn in September, when she said unvaccinated people "aren't listening to God and what God wants."
The governor's record "practically exudes suspicion of those who hold unpopular religious beliefs," Gorsuch wrote in the dissent. "That alone is sufficient to render the mandate unconstitutional as applied to these applicants."
He also faulted the mandate for allowing an exemption for medical reasons while prohibiting one on religious grounds, and for failing to establish the necessity of its demands on workers.
"New York has presented nothing to suggest that accommodating the religious objectors before us would make a meaningful difference to the protection of public health," Gorsuch wrote. "The State has not even tried."