The US Supreme Court announced Friday that it will not block Maine’s requirement that the state’s health care workers get vaccinated for COVID-19 regardless of religious beliefs.
The court rejected the emergency appeal on the same day of Maine’s vaccination deadline for health care workers. Those who did not comply face termination, to be enforced immediately.
Three justices dissented, with Neil Gorsuch penning a lengthy opinion criticizing the state’s policy. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito joined Gorsuch.
“Where many other States have adopted religious exemptions, Maine has charted a different course,” Gorsuch wrote in his opinion.
“There, healthcare workers who have served on the front line of a pandemic for the last 18 months are now being fired and their practices shuttered. All for adhering to their constitutionally protected religious beliefs. Their plight is worthy of our attention.”
Judge Amy Coney Barrett agreed with the court’s decision not to intervene, writing in a short opinion that the court was asked to “grant extraordinary relief in this case,” which she said is the first of its kind.
She was joined by fellow conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Maine joins only New York and Rhode Island as states that do not provide for religious exemptions in their vaccination mandates for health care workers, which has led to several lawsuits.
The case will continue to play out in lower courts.
The lawsuit was filed by The Liberty Counsel on behalf of 2,000 of the state’s health care employees it claimed did not wish to be forced to be vaccinated.
The state mandate was announced by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills on Aug. 12, and required hospital and nursing home workers to get vaccinated or face termination by Sept. 29. In September, Maine extended the deadline for health care employees to Oct. 29.
A federal judge in Maine had declined to stop the mandate in a ruling on Oct. 13, leading to the emergency appeal.
On Friday, Mills touted the high vaccination rate in the Pine Tree State. The Maine Hospital Association and other local health care systems supported the mandate.
“I applaud the 80 percent of Maine people age 12 and older who have rolled up their sleeves to do what’s right for themselves, their neighbors, and their communities,” she said.
Andy Mueller, CEO of MaineHealth, told The Associated Press that he expects to lose 1.5 to 2 percent of the staff for his health system, the state’s largest.
He said that despite the losses, he believes hospitals will ultimately be better staffed by cutting out COVID-19 related absences.
“We actually think we’re going to have more capability and less shortages in a real way by ensuring our workforce is vaccinated,” Mueller said.
With Post wires