For the second time in a week, a group of Maine health-care workers challenging that state’s COVID-19 shot mandate has turned to the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency injunction to suspend the policy while the high court considers whether to review claims the mandate violates protected religious liberty. Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer will again review the petition.
A group of 2,009 health-care workers sued Maine Gov. Janet T. Mills and her administration in August over the state’s mandate that all health-care workers get a COVID shot by Oct. 29. On Oct. 20, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit denied their petition for a preliminary injunction. So they went back to the same Supreme Court that a day earlier turned down their request for an emergency injunction. Justice Breyer denied the first request without prejudice, and invited plaintiffs to apply again if they did not get the relief they sought in lower courts by Oct. 29.
Liberty Counsel, a public-interest law firm representing the health workers, filed a new application for emergency injunction pending disposition of their forthcoming second request, for a writ of certiorari. Plaintiffs’ attorneys want the vaccine mandate held in abeyance while the Supreme Court decides whether it will review the case.
“We have returned to the U.S. Supreme Court to obtain relief for these health care heroes against Governor Janet Mills’ illegal edict,” said Matthew D. Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel. “There is no question that Gov. Janet Mills cannot nullify federal law and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. All Maine health care workers have the legal right to request reasonable accommodation for their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
In August, Maine dropped its policy that allowed for religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate. The state still allows medical exemptions. The plaintiffs object to the COVID shots’ ties to abortion-derived cell lines. They say the shot policy violates religious-liberty protections in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion. The state argues the mandate is a key to protecting patients and care workers from the spread of COVID-19.
Justice Breyer ordered Mills and the State of Maine to file a response to the application for injunction by noon Monday, Oct. 25.
“If this court does not intervene promptly, as New York’s courts have done, and if Maine’s contrivance to abolish religious exemptions—now with the blessing of the First Circuit—is allowed to stand, untold numbers of employees in Maine will have to decide, in a matter of days, what is more important to them—their deeply held religious beliefs, or their ability to work anywhere in their state so that they can feed their families,” the application for injunction said.
The vaccine-mandate battle is in need of legal clarity. Nearly identical mandate policies in Maine and New York have resulted in contrary opinions from U.S. District Courts. In Maine, the district and appeals courts refused to grant a preliminary injunction against the shot mandate. In New York, U.S. District Judge David N. Hurd granted a preliminary injunction against that state’s jab mandate, ruling the policy would likely fail strict judicial scrutiny.
For full background on the lawsuit against Gov. Mills, see Catholic World Report’s Oct. 19 coverage.
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