After the United States Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling on Wednesday evening overturning a ban on large religious gatherings in New York amid the ever-worsening COVID-19 pandemic, Justice Sonia Sotomayor authored a blistering dissent of the Court’s decision, writing that “amidst a pandemic that has already claimed over a quarter million American lives, the Court today enjoins one of New York’s public health measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID–19 in areas facing the most severe outbreaks.”
In her dissent, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts along with Associate Justices Elena Kagan and Steven Breyer, Sotomayor said that “I see no justification for the Court’s change of heart, and I fear that granting applications such as the one filed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn (Diocese) will only exacerbate the Nation’s suffering.”
Sotomayor added that the “Justices of this Court play a deadly game in second guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.”
Sotomayor also pointed out the Court’s inconsistency when it comes to precedent it has already set on implementing restrictions upon specific religious organizations which were purely political in nature.
“Just a few Terms ago, this Court declined to apply heightened scrutiny to a Presidential Proclamation limiting immigration from Muslim-majority countries,” Sotomayor said, “even though President Trump had described the Proclamation as a ‘Muslim Ban,’ originally conceived of as a ‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.'”
Putting public health above non-essential religious gatherings does not violate the Constitution, Sotomayor concluded.
“Free religious exercise is one of our most treasured and jealously guarded constitutional rights. States may not discriminate against religious institutions, even when faced with a crisis as deadly as this one. But those principles are not at stake today,” Sotomayor, an appointee of President Barack Obama, said. “The Constitution does not forbid States from responding to public health crises through regulations that treat religious institutions equally or more favorably than comparable secular institutions, particularly when those regulations save lives. Because New York’s COVID– 19 restrictions do just that, I respectfully dissent.”
Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, an evangelical Christian conservative, cast the deciding vote. Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh threw their weight behind the Court’s majority opinion, which was unsigned.
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.