In a 5-4 ruling last week, the US Supreme Court told New York Governor Cuomo where he can stick the Covid-19 related restrictions he placed on religious gatherings. In late Spring, California and Nevada prevailed in the Supreme Court over the same issue while faith leaders screamed bloody murder about the way their First Amendment rights were being denied.
No proof to back restrictions
What was once a predictable 4-5 decision against religious organizations has now become an equally predictable 5-4 decision in favor of these same plaintiffs (i.e. religious organizations in New York). All due to Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation and replacement of the late Ruth Ginsburg.
As before, the majority decision was strictly along political lines, with Barrett breaking the tie for the conservative judges. Barrett also is reported to have played a lead role in shaping overall arguments made in the majority’s decision.
The Supreme Court's decision allowing the Trump administration to enforce its discriminatory public charge rule is deeply disturbing and will further embolden the federal government's relentless assault on immigrants throughout the country.
My full statement: pic.twitter.com/mfZpQlBBV4
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) January 28, 2020
New York is just the first state to have its toe forcibly put into new SCOTUS waters, only to have it “bitten off” by blood maddened sharks.
Through this loss, other states are implicitly put on notice that similar moves to treat places of worship differently than sectarian gatherings, like grocery or liquor stores, will not be tolerated, at least not without substantial proof and data to back up any restrictions.
The SCOTUS majority’s decision is clear – the constitution does not cease during times of crisis, including pandemics. Further, states cannot treat gatherings at places of worship differently than they treat sectarian gatherings.
A Few Hundred People
Unfortunately for Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York was unable to produce any compelling data suggesting churches posed a greater risk. It was also noted many places of worship that would have been affected by new regulations actually have seating capacities well in excess of a few hundred people and some even up to 500 seats, and higher.
Limiting or restricting access to 10 or 25 people, regardless of the size of the church, mosque or synagogue, struck the court’s majority as grossly unfair and unconstitutional. This amounts to less than 5 percent of the space available to safely social distance in a large structure.
Should either California or Nevada clamp down further with increased restrictions (like New York’s), new lawsuits could be filed again, and this time would likely prevail.
If Conservatives hold on to their slim majority in the Senate, they will prevent Democrats from making good on threats to “stack the court.” However, doing so currently depends on at least one of two special run-off elections in Georgia being won by Republicans.
Losing both would flip the Senate and threaten Conservative values for years. This could potentially result in at least 2 or 4 new Supreme Court judges, all liberal, being confirmed in rapid fashion; flipping the court from a 5-4 conservative majority to potentially a 6-5 Liberal court majority.