When former President Donald Trump nominated now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court in the fall of 2020, millions of Americans had high hopes that she would be a fierce defender of the Constitution and its protection of religious liberty.
Shockingly, those hopes were dashed Friday when Justice Barrett sided with her liberal colleagues in a ruling against health care workers in Maine who seeking religious exemptions from the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Business Insider reported.
Barrett was joined in the move by fellow Trump appointee Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts, resulting in a 6–3 decision against a request to block Maine’s mandate from going into effect.
In dissent was Trump’s first appointee to the high court, Neil Gorsuch, who was joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.
A lawsuit out of Maine
At issue in the case was a vaccine mandate on most health care workers in the state of Maine that was set to take effect on Oct. 29. Notably, it explicitly excludes religious exemptions from consideration, but allows a wide array of medical exemption claims.
That duality formed the basis of the lawsuit brought by a number of health care workers in Maine who faced disciplinary measures, up to and including the loss of their jobs, for failing to get vaccinated by the state’s deadline.
In addition to arguing that their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion were being violated by the state, the suit also said that Maine’s no-religious-exemptions rule appears to be in violation of federal laws and guidelines as laid out recently by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Indeed, an EEOC press release on Oct. 25 made clear that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act “requires employers to consider requests for religious accommodations…of employees who seek exceptions to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement.”
The “shadow docket”
Unfortunately, it appears none of that mattered to Justice Barrett, who wrote a brief concurring opinion, joined by Kavanaugh, that rejected the request for an injunction, citing the process pursued by the health care workers rather than the actual merits of the case.
More specifically, Barrett took issue with the fact that the case had been pressed for emergency review in what has been dubbed the “shadow docket,” instead of going through the lengthier normal practice — a practice that, in this instance, was all but impracticable due to the rapidly approaching deadline.
“Were the standard otherwise, applicants could use the emergency docket to force the Court to give a merits preview in cases that it would be unlikely to take — and to do so on a short fuse without benefit of full briefing and oral argument,” Barrett wrote. “In my view, this discretionary consideration counsels against a grant of extraordinary relief in this case, which is the first to address the questions presented.”
Contrastingly, the dissent authored by Gorsuch and joined by Alito and Thomas made clear that, even without the “benefit of full briefing and oral argument” demanded by Barrett and the rest, it’s facially obvious that Maine’s law violates the religious rights of the health care workers — to say nothing of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act:
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. Their plight is worthy of our attention. I would grant relief.