The Supreme Court has approved injunctive relief for churches in Santa Clara County to open for indoor services, starting immediately. This move may be a bellwether for similar cases around the nation and demonstrates a likelihood that the church has a majority of friendly Justices willing to rule on their behalf. Leftist Justices Kagan, Breyer, and Sotomayor all dissented.
BREAKING: SCOTUS orders California’s Santa Clara County to allow churches to hold indoor services. Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissent. Here’s the short shadow docket order. https://t.co/pLGpSaReY6 pic.twitter.com/fsSgtmewNl
— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) February 27, 2021
The ruling will allow churches to open while appeals are pending. If the appeals reach the Supreme Court, as they most certainly will, then it seems likely Justices Thomas, Kavanaugh, Barrett, Alito, Gorsuch, and Chief Justice Roberts will side with the First Amendment. Here’s the ruling:
The application for injunctive relief presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is granted pending disposition of the appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari, if such writ is timely sought. The Ninth Circuit’s failure to grant relief was erroneous. This outcome is clearly dictated by this Court’s decision in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, 592 U. S. ___ (2021). Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, this order shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the order shall terminate upon the sending down of the judgment of this Court.
Justice Kagan, with whom Justice Breyer and Justice Sotomayor join, dissenting: I dissent for the reasons set out in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, 592 U. S. ___ (2021) (Kagan, J., dissenting).
Religious liberties are being challenged across the country. The Covid-19 lockdowns have often targeted houses of worship as “non-essential” and therefore rendered not of interest for lockdown exceptions. It’s noteworthy that casinos, liquor stores, and strip clubs have had easier times opening up than churches.
Questions have been floating among conservative circles as to the actual makeup of the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Roberts has gone from moderate to full-blown progressive. Justices Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Barrett have been disappointments to various degrees. Only Justices Thomas and Alito have maintained their constitutional originalist status. This ruling could show that on the topic of First Amendment religious protections, even the lukewarm conservatives are unwilling to break them.
Churches are essential and indoor services benefit the faithful. As fear of Covid-19 persists despite science saying it’s not the existential threat that it’s billed as, it’s good to see the Supreme Court get something right.
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