The U.S. Supreme Court ordered on Friday that the Pentagon may consider the COVID-19 vaccination status of the elite Navy SEALs when making operational personnel decisions.
The court granted the request made by the Biden administration for an order stopping a preliminary injunction entered by a lower court that was designed to prohibit vaccination status from being considered in decisions about the deployment of individual SEALs.
Federal District Judge Reed O’Connor ordered the preliminary injunction in January prohibiting the military from enforcing the vaccine mandate against SEALs who lodged a religious objection. The judge wrote that there are “no COVID exceptions to the First Amendment” and the military has no “exclusion from the Constitution.”
After the injunction was entered, public interest law firm First Liberty alleged the Navy was using other forms of punishment for SEALs who refused to accept the jab.
The Supreme Court order from Friday comes as the case remains pending before the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court said that the injunction may not be enforced to the extent that it stops the Navy from considering vaccination status when making “operational decisions” including deployment and other personnel assignments.
Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett joined with the three liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts in agreeing with the Biden administration’s request. Kavanaugh wrote a concurring opinion stating he ruled against the SEALs because the District Court should not interfere with the military’s chain of command, which overrides “professional military judgments.”
Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented but did not join with or write a separate dissenting opinion as he was hospitalized last week.
Alito wrote that the majority did a “great injustice” to the Navy SEALs and other members of Naval Special Warfare who have volunteered to “undertake demanding and hazardous duties to defend our country.” He added that giving the Navy unrestricted power to “warehouse” the objecting members for an appellate process that could take years and be “potentially career-ending” is not justified. Alito added that the SEALs have been “treated shabbily” by the Navy.
Several thousand active-duty military personnel have obtained exemptions from Biden’s vaccine mandate on non-religious grounds. The military has been rejecting requests for religious exemptions from members who often object to receiving the experimental vaccine developed and tested with fetal tissue from aborted babies.