Legal Corner – November 26, 2020
By: Nathaniel E. Ballantyne
The United States Supreme Court issued a decision just before midnight Wednesday night signaling a major shift in its approach to coronavirus-related restrictions voting 5-4 to bar New York State from reimposing limits on religious gatherings. This ruling was the first significant indication of a rightward shift in the court since President Donald Trump’s newest appointee — Justice Amy Coney Barrett — last month filled the seat occupied by liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September.
A few months ago, the Supreme Court narrowly rejected challenges to virus-related restrictions on churches in California and Nevada. Chief Justice John Roberts joins the court’s Democratic appointees to stress that state and local governments required flexibility to deal with a dangerous and evolving pandemic. But support on the high court for those rulings shrank with Ginsburg’s death.
Wednesday night’s orders that granted emergency relief to Roman Catholic churches and two Jewish congregations in New York demonstrated, as many suspected, that Barrett would side with the court’s most conservative justices in insisting on greater accommodation for religion even as the pandemic is again surging.
It is expected that Justice Barrett will continue to side with the most conservative members of the court to undo some of the gains achieved in the last fifty years. Issues that are on their way to the court include a woman’s right to choose and workers’ rights.
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