The teachers had previously asked Sotomayor — who has jurisdiction over lower courts in New York — to consider their emergency request. Sotomayor denied the request without referring the matter to the full court, likely because she did not think her colleagues would be interested in granting the application. The court has been reluctant to get involved in state and local vaccine mandate disputes.
But the New York group then took the unusual step of directing a new request to conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, who referred it to the full court to consider.
Supreme Court rules allow a party to make a renewed request to “any other justice” after a denial from the justice who has jurisdiction over the lower courts involved in the case. The rules state, however, that such a renewed application is “not favored.”
The parties likely directed the latest request to Gorsuch because last fall he penned a dissent when the court denied a request to block Maine’s vaccine mandate. In that case, a group of unvaccinated workers argued that the mandate — that had no accommodations for religious objections — violated their rights. However, there are significant differences between the two mandates, particularly the fact that the NYC mandate does offer limited religious accommodations.
Gorsuch did not explain his reasoning for his action in the New York case, but likely referred the matter to the court in order to stop the parties from continuing to apply for relief to the court. Although they asked for action this week, the justices will only consider the request early next month.
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The teachers say that they have been suspended for not complying with the mandate, and now they face permanent termination. They say that while the city allows some religious accommodations, the exemptions are too narrow and don’t cover their objections. There are 13 plaintiffs involved in the dispute.
In general, the court has been sympathetic to state-issued mandates. Justice Amy Coney Barrett acted alone in August when she denied a request to block Indiana University’s mandate. The court also rejected a challenge brought by health care workers to mandates in Maine and New York.
Earlier in the term, however, the justices blocked a mandate put forward by President Joe Biden aimed at large employers, holding that the federal government exceeded its authority by issuing a rule that would have impacted some 80 million employees.