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Justice Sotomayor Rejects Emergency Application of NYC Firefighters, Cops, and Teachers Raising Religious Objections to COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Associate US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor poses for the official photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on October 7, 2022.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor rejected an emergency application without comment on Thursday, showing the door to public employees with religious objections to New York City’s municipal worker COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The emergency application for an injunction pending appellate review filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of New Yorkers for Religious Liberty, Inc. asserted in the opening line of their filing that “It is now widely acknowledged that COVID-19 vaccines are ‘non-sterilizing’ and cannot meaningfully halt the spread of disease.”

The group said that a collection of “firefighters, teachers, police officers, sanitation workers, and other public employees […] lost their livelihoods and are losing their homes due to the [New York] City’s discretionary vaccine policies,” and they claim they are getting “more desperate” every day, as “they must choose whether to violate their faith to return to work.”

The vaccine mandate challengers claimed that a “reported […] ‘tripandemic’ may loom ahead this winter, greatly increasing the likelihood that the Mandates will remain in place or new ones will replace them.”

Therefore, they asked the Supreme Court through Justice Sotomayor to grant a preliminary injunction “partially restoring the status quo ante by enjoining the enforcement of any City Mandate against any Applicant—including reinstatement and the removal of any negative personnel file notations resulting from a Mandate—while the Second Circuit proceeds on the merits.”

“Such an injunction would not harm the City’s interests an iota but would merely place Applicants on par with New York City’s nearly four million private sector employees, who were just freed from the City’s mandates on November 1, 2022, and thousands of other unvaccinated municipal employees who the City has not yet enforced the Mandate against due to staffing issues, administrative delay, and other secular reasons. Grant of the Application is warranted,” the applicants insisted.

Despite claims that New York City violated applicants’ “right to freely exercise their faith by forcing them to choose between maintaining public employment or taking the COVID-19 vaccine against their sincere religious beliefs,” Justice Sotomayor granted them no relief and didn’t explain her reasoning.

The application was docketed six days ago, the Supreme Court’s website shows.

Court-watchers note that the Supreme Court has been loath to countenance such applications since Oct. 29, 2021, when Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh allied in rejecting a challenge of a vaccine mandate in Maine.

In that concurrence, the justices noted that it matters whether an applicant is “likely to succeed on the merits” when considering whether to grant extraordinary relief.

“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. 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,” Barrett wrote.

Law&Crime reached out to the Alliance Defending Freedom’s counsel John J. Bursch for comment.

[Image via OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.