The Supreme Court on Friday granted an emergency request from the Defense Department to restore its authority over the deployment of unvaccinated Navy SEALs and other special warfare service members amid a pending legal challenge to the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The court’s move temporarily blocked a January ruling by a federal judge in Texas. That judge halted the department from considering vaccination status in deployment decisions affecting Navy special forces operators who have refused to comply with the military’s mandate on religious grounds.
Justice Clarence Thomas indicated that he would have denied the Pentagon’s request, and fellow conservatives Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch wrote in dissent.
“In this case, the District Court, while no doubt well-intentioned, in effect inserted itself into the Navy’s chain of command, overriding military commanders’ professional military judgments,” conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote, concurring with the majority.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department said the agency will “rely on our prior filings in this matter for any comment.”
The ruling marks the latest twist as the Pentagon fights to be able to enforce its mandate against the plaintiffs in the case, who argued that the mandate violated their religious rights.
In early January, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor blocked the Navy from taking “any adverse action” against 35 special warfare sailors — including Navy SEALs, divers and special warfare combat crew. He argued that the religious accommodation process was “by all accounts, it is theater,” adding the branch “merely rubber stamps each denial.”
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals later turned down a request from the Pentagon to partially stay that ruling, saying the agency hadn’t proven “paramount interests” that justify vaccinating the plaintiffs.
Active-duty sailors had until Nov. 28 to be fully vaccinated, and reservists had until Dec. 28 to comply. As of March 23, the Navy has only granted nine accommodations for members in the Individual Ready Reserve, but those service members will have to be vaccinated before returning to active service.
This is an excerpt from The Hill.
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