On Maine's Vax Mandate, Supreme Court Turns Away

High court won't block the directive, which went into effect for health care workers in Maine on Friday
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 30, 2021 5:30 AM CDT
Supreme Court Won't Block Vaccine Mandate in Maine
The Supreme Court is seen at dusk in Washington on Oct. 22, 2021.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

(Newser) – The Supreme Court has rejected an emergency appeal from health care workers in Maine to block a vaccine mandate that went into effect Friday. Three conservative justices noted their dissents. The state isn't offering a religious exemption to hospital and nursing home workers who risk losing their jobs if they're not vaccinated, per the AP. Only New York and Rhode Island also have vaccine mandates for health care workers that lack religious exemptions. Both are the subject of court fights, and a court has allowed workers in New York to seek religious exemptions while the lawsuit plays out.

As is typical in emergency appeals, the Supreme Court didn't explain its action. But Justice Neil Gorsuch said in a dissent for himself and fellow conservatives Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito that he would have agreed to the health care workers' request. "Where many other States have adopted religious exemptions, Maine has charted a different course," Gorsuch wrote. "There, health care 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."

The Liberty Counsel—which filed the lawsuit and claimed to be representing more than 2,000 health care workers who don't want to be forced to be vaccinated—tweeted, "Maine health care workers (were) left out in the cold." But Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said she was gratified that the mandate was upheld, saying it's imperative for hospitals to "take every precaution to protect their workers and patients against this deadly virus." Maine's requirement was put in place by the governor. A federal judge in Maine declined to stop the mandate, concluding that the lawsuit was unlikely to succeed. The Oct. 13 decision prompted a flurry of appeals that landed, for a second time, in the Supreme Court.

Dozens of health care workers have opted to quit, and a hospital in Maine's second-largest city already curtailed some admissions because of an "acute shortage" of nurses. But most health workers have complied, and Maine residents in general have been supportive of the vaccine. The Maine Hospital Association and other health care groups support the requirement. Enforcement of the mandate began on the same day the governor announced 80% of eligible Mainers were vaccinated. The case will continue to play out in lower courts.

(Read more US Supreme Court stories.)

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