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SCOTUS Makes Big Decision On Vaccine Mandates For Navy SEALs

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The Supreme Court has made a decision in the case brought by some Navy special forces, including around two dozen Navy SEAL regarding vaccine mandates.

The court has frozen a lower court ruling that said the Navy had to deploy the service members as they awaited decisions of their religious exemption claims.

The court did not give a reason for its decision, which was dissented to by conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch, The New York Times reported.

Joining the liberal justices were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh.

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“The Navy has an extraordinarily compelling interest in maintaining strategic and operational control over the assignment and deployment of all Special Warfare personnel — including control over decisions about military readiness,” Justice Kavanaugh said.

He said that he saw “no basis in this case for employing the judicial power in a manner that military commanders believe would impair the military of the United States as it defends the American people.”

Justice Alito, joined by Justice Gorsuch, penned the dissent and said that the court did “a great injustice to the 35 respondents — Navy SEALs and others in the Naval Special Warfare community — who have volunteered to undertake demanding and hazardous duties to defend our country.”

“These individuals,” they said, “appear to have been treated shabbily by the Navy, and the court brushes all that aside.”

“The court’s order, “they said, “essentially gives the Navy carte blanche to warehouse respondents for the duration of the appellate process, which may take years. There is no justification for this unexplained and potentially career-ending disposition.”

Justice Alito said that he would have approved of a narrower ruling that was limited “to the selection of the Special Warfare service members who are sent on missions where there is a special need to minimize the risk that the illness of a member due to Covid-19 might jeopardize the success of the mission or the safety of the team members.”

“It appears that the court’s order allows the Navy to use respondents’ unvaccinated status as a reason for directing them to perform whatever duties or functions the Navy wants, including sitting alone in a room pushing paper or reading manuals for the duration of the appellate process,” he said.

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Judge Reed O’Connor, of the Federal District Court in Fort Worth, had issued a preliminary injunction barring the Navy from taking any punitive action against its personnel, including 26 SEALs, while their lawsuit moved forward. Judge O’Connor said the plaintiffs had religious objections to the coronavirus vaccine that the Navy had to respect.

After a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, refused to block that ruling, the Biden administration filed an emergency application in the Supreme Court.

The administration requested only partial relief, saying it did not seek to block the part of the injunction protecting the plaintiffs from discharge or discipline. Instead, Elizabeth B. Prelogar, the solicitor general, asked the justices to maintain “the Navy’s authority to decide which service members should be deployed to execute some of the military’s most sensitive and dangerous missions.”

Ms. Prelogar wrote that the injunction had already forced the Navy, against its military judgment, to send one of the plaintiffs to Hawaii for submarine duty. In general, she wrote, “Navy personnel routinely operate for extended periods of time in confined spaces that are ripe breeding grounds for respiratory illnesses, where mitigation measures such as distancing are impractical or impossible.”

She noted that the military had long required vaccinations, starting in 1777, when George Washington ordered the inoculation of the Continental Army against smallpox. As of early 2021, she wrote, nine vaccines were required for all service members.

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