After 35 sailors refused to comply on religious grounds with an order for COVID-19 vaccination, the Supreme Court has given the Navy more freedom in deciding what assignments to give to them.
In a short order Friday, the high court sided with Biden’s administration. It stated that, while the lawsuit is pending, the Navy could consider sailors’ vaccination status when making operational decisions such as assignment, deployment, or assignment. The suit was mainly filed by Navy SEALs.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh stated that the court’s decision was supported by a “simple, overarching reason”. He wrote that the Constitution makes the president “not any federal judge” the commander-in-chief of the armed force. He also noted that courts are traditionally reluctant to interfere with the Executive’s authority in national security and military affairs.
Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, three conservative justices, noted that they disagreed and would have sided alongside the SEAL group.
Alito stated that his colleagues had “rubberstamping” the Government’s request.
In January , a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary order prohibiting the Navy from acting against sailors. Biden’s administration stated that it wasn’t asking the Supreme Court for a block order preventing sailors from being disciplined, discharged, or that they be assigned without taking into account their vaccination status. The administration had claimed that this requirement presented “intolerable risk to safety and mission failure.”
“Navy personnel often work for long periods in tight spaces that can be ripe for respiratory illness, making it difficult or impossible to implement mitigation measures like distancing. An SEAL who becomes ill cannot fulfill his or her mission and can infect others, especially at close quarters (including submarines),” wrote Biden administration lawyers.
Last year, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made mandatory vaccinations for service members. The Navy guidelines allow exemptions from the vaccine requirement for religious reasons, medical reasons, and when a service member is about to leave the Navy. According to the Biden administration, the Navy has received over 4,000 requests for religious exemptions. However, it stated that only 80 of these exemptions had been approved as of February 1. One religious exemption was granted, it said.
The lawyers representing the sailors who sued argued that hundreds of exemptions had been granted by the Navy. They claimed that the Navy wanted a “license to engage hostile tactics designed to coerce Plaintiffs into disregarding religious beliefs” by asking the high court for vaccine status to be allowed.
Lower courts denied the Biden administration’s request to allow vaccination status to be considered. Reed O’Connor, a federal judge from Texas, was appointed by President George W. Bush. He is also a member of a three-judge panel of U.S Circuit Court of Appeals. The former President Donald Trump appointed two of these judges, while Ronald Reagan appointed the third.