Chief Justice John Roberts Can't Even Pretend To Be That Stupid
Late Friday night, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts did something that he likes to do every once in a while, just to mix things up and ... wait for it ... he did the right thing.
Yeah, we were surprised, too.
Early last week, the South Bay United Pentecostal Church, located just south of San Diego in Chula Vista, sued California Gov. Gavin Newsom, arguing his order limiting attendance at worship services was unconstitutional.
Like many recent Supreme Court rulings, this one was 5-4. But unlike in most recent opinions, Justices Ginsberg, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer were joined by none other than George W. Bush appointee John Roberts, whose favorite hobby normally is doing whatever the Trump regime asks him to.
Just before midnight on Friday, the Court released the opinion, saying it would not be stepping in to overhaul California's reopening plan in time to allow mass spread of COVID-19 at churches for Pentecostal Sunday. (Earlier Friday evening, the Court also denied a similar request from two churches in the Chicago area, because the Illinois order being litigated was no longer in effect.)
That's right, the Supreme Court did a good thing! In 2020!
There was no majority opinion, but swing-vote Roberts wrote a brief concurrence summarizing his reasoning.
Here's how Roberts described the facts (spoiler: It makes it seem like he's actually taking the threat from this pandemic seriously!):
The Governor of California's Executive Order aims to limit the spread of COVID–19, a novel severe acute respiratory illness that has killed thousands of people in California and more than 100,000 nationwide. At this time, there is no known cure, no effective treatment, and no vaccine. Because people may be infected but asymptomatic, they may unwittingly infect others. The Order places temporary numerical restrictions on public gatherings to address this extraordinary health emergency. State guidelines currently limit attendance at places of worship to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees.
As Roberts noted,
Although California's guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time. And the Order exempts or treats more leniently only dissimilar activities, such as operating grocery stores, banks, and laundromats, in which people neither congregate in large groups nor remain in close proximity for extended periods.
The Court's four other conservatives, of course, all joined a dissent written by Kegs Kavanaugh, who proudly stood up for the fundamental rights of South Bay United Pentecostal's congregants to die of, and kill others with, coronavirus.
Under California's current scheme, attendance at worship services is limited to either 100 attendees or 25 percent of building capacity, whichever is lower. This cap is due to the unique threats in spreading the pandemic that churches pose, where people gather in the same room for long periods of time, singing and breathing aerosol particles into the air, and sometimes also doing things like taking communion in large groups.
Seems reasonable, right?
Not to the conservative wing of our highest court.
Kegs argues that "California's latest safety guidelines discriminate against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses[,]" in violation of the First Amendment. Because other places, like "factories, offices, supermarkets, restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies, shopping malls, pet grooming shops, bookstores, florists, hair salons, and cannabis dispensaries" have different requirements that don't include these caps," says the credibly accused attempted rapist, California's order impermissibly discriminates against religious institutions.
Unfortunately for Justices Kegs, Gorsuch, Thomas, and Alito (who, of course, ruled remotely on this case to protect their own lives), there are some pretty major differences between businesses and places of worship. At most retail locations — which have their own social distancing rules to follow — people don't sit, sing, and gather in close proximity for long periods of time.
Like Roberts noted (omg, I'm citing to John Roberts with approval, WHAT IS THIS TIMELINE),
Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time. And the Order exempts or treats more leniently only dissimilar activities, such as operating grocery stores, banks, and laundromats, in which people neither congregate in large groups nor remain in close proximity for extended periods.
While "[t]he precise question of when restrictions on particular social activities should be lifted during the pandemic is a dynamic and fact-intensive matter subject to reasonable disagreement[,]" the church would have to meet a very high bar to overrule the state's order. And according to Roberts, "the notion that it is 'indisputably clear' that the Government's limitations are unconstitutional seems quite improbable."
It's not every day that this Court does the right thing, especially here in
hell 2020. Have a picture of one of my foster kittens to celebrate this nice time!
Here's the order, Roberts's concurrence, and the dissent by PJ and Squee's BFF:
Follow Jamie on Twitter!
Wonkette is funded ENTIRELY by YOU! Help us pay the writers, or the lawyers, who are the same thing.