Gorsuch also wrote a lengthy dissent in a declined request from Catholic health care workers in New York who argued that they believe “abortion-derived fetal cell lines” are used in “production or testing” and thus declared the vaccine violates their religious beliefs. (Presumably, they also eschew taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin on those grounds.) Gorsuch likened the complainants to Jehovah’s Witnesses who decline to pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag, because trying to prevent a deadly pandemic from spreading and reciting words at a national symbol are the same.
At any rate, the religious freedom gambit worked for this group of teachers. Gorsuch is referring the case to the full court, which again is not a normal kind of thing that happens in the court. “Supreme Court rules allow a party to make a renewed request to ‘any other justice’ after a denial from the justice who has jurisdiction over the lower courts involved in the case,” CNN’s Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue explains. “The rules state, however, that such a renewed application is ‘not favored.’”
Like Gorsuch is going to be constrained by rules or respect for his colleagues and the precedents they have set, especially Sotomayor. Remember last month’s kerfuffle when NPR’s Nina Totenberg disclosed in her reporting that Gorsuch refused to wear a mask during a hearing, forcing Sotomayor to dial in remotely for her own safety? She’s a diabetic, and thus at high risk for dangerous complications from a COVID-19 infection. Totenberg reported that Gorsuch had been asked to mask up to protect her, and that he refused to do so.
This also follows on Gorsuch’s big, private speech at an annual conference of Florida Federalist Society chapters. The speech was closed to the press, the only event at the conference that shut reporters out. You know the Federalist Society—the far-right, dark money group that has dictated most Republican presidents’ judicial nominations, ensuring wingnuts (like Gorsuch) dominate the court.
These are the same wingnuts who struck down the vaccine mandate imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for large employers because: “Although COVID–19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most. COVID–19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather.”
Because the virus spreads everywhere, including schools (hey, New York teachers!), it’s not a matter within OSHA’s purview, even though it can also spread in workplaces. This reasoning, as Mark Sumner points out, “provides every employer, every conservative organization, and every Republican attorney general the perfect opening to destroy safety regulations across the board.”
This court, dominated by the likes of Gorsuch, Alito, and Thomas, is extreme. This court is dangerous. It needs to be reformed and it needs to be expanded.
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