By Greg Stohr
- Governor Cuomo barred from reimposing strict capacity limits
- Barrett joins conservatives in 5-4 majority; Roberts dissents
A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court blocked New York Governor Andrew Cuomo from reimposing strict capacity limits on a group of New York City synagogues and Roman Catholic churches, saying rules he issued amid a new Covid-19 wave unfairly single out houses of worship.
With Justice Amy Coney Barrett joining the conservative wing in the majority, the court voted 5-4 in a pair of cases to bar Cuomo from enforcing his Oct. 6 “Cluster Initiative” against houses of worship that sued to challenge the restrictions. The initiative was aimed at stemming the outbreak in areas of Brooklyn and Queens that were experiencing a surge in cases.
“Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” the majority said an unsigned opinion issued just before midnight Wednesday. “The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”
The orders underscore the impact of Barrett’s confirmation last month to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The court with Ginsburg had been reluctant to second-guess state and local officials on efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19, even when religious rights were at issue.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s three liberals in dissent. There was “no need” for the court to act, he wrote, given that the suing synagogues and churches all can now hold services at 50% capacity.