Supreme Court Justices “Play a Deadly Game”

A recent commentary (WE Parmet. NEJM 2021; 384: 199-201. Full text: Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo — The Supreme Court and Pandemic Controls) explains how a recent court decision undermines the future of many public health laws.

Key points:

  • “On November 25, 2020, … the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-to-4 vote, undermined states’ ability to control that pandemic.” (Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo)
  • Initially, most courts rejected challenges to restrictions imposed by governors during the pandemic. “Initially, most courts rejected these claims, citing the Supreme Court’s 1905 decision in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which upheld a Cambridge, Massachusetts, regulation mandating smallpox vaccination during an outbreak.”
  • After the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, ” there was now a 5-to-4 majority willing to block limits on religious services.” This was based on the rationale that it is unlawful to “single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment” and that “even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”
  • In dissent, “Justice Stephen Breyer pointed to epidemiologic evidence that in-person worship may pose a greater risk than shopping and other activities that were less stringently regulated to argue that the Court should defer to state officials.”
  • “The Court’s eagerness to intervene even though New York’s orders were no longer in effect and its failure to consider epidemiologic evidence in determining which activities are comparable to worship will serve as a warning” against “state orders that impose tighter measures on worship…[and] suggests that states will not be able to act before super-spreader events occur or as long as other states take a more lax approach.”
  • The author note that “although courts should not abdicate their role during a pandemic, they also should not rush to assume an expertise they lack.”
  • “[The] most important legacy may be the dethroning of Jacobson…[which] has been the key precedent supporting vaccine mandates and other public health laws….With Jacobson apparently sidelined, the future of many public health laws, including and especially vaccine mandates, appears perilous.”

From The Onion:

Also, useful website via NBC: Plan Your Vaccine

1 thought on “Supreme Court Justices “Play a Deadly Game”

  1. Pingback: Public Health Laws Weakened After COVID-19 | gutsandgrowth

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