On Monday, the Biden administration appealed a lower court decision barring the U.S. Navy from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate against Navy SEALS to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Late last month, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal district court ruling placing a preliminary injunction on the Navy from preventing those service members who had obtained a religious exemption from the mandate from deploying overseas.
In January, Texas-based federal district court Judge Reed O’Connor wrote in his opinion in favor of 35 Navy SEALs and other special warfare personnel’s religious exemptions, “The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms. There is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution,” he added.
In a Monday emergency filing to the Supreme Court, Biden Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote, “This application seeks relief from a preliminary injunction that usurps the Navy’s authority to decide which servicemembers should be deployed to execute some of the military’s most sensitive and dangerous missions.”
“The Navy has an extraordinarily compelling interest in ensuring that the servicemembers who perform those missions are as physically and medically prepared as possible. That includes vaccinating them against COVID-19, which is the least restrictive means of achieving that interest,” she argued.
Prelogar contended that O’Connor’s ruling is getting in the way of the Navy being able to make the force readiness decisions it believes are best.
“Indeed, the Navy has informed this Office that the injunction has already compelled it to send one respondent to Hawaii for duty on a submarine against its military judgment. Other respondents occupy positions that may require them to be ‘deploy[ed] anywhere in the world in the immediate future.’”
O’Connor in his ruling noted, “By all accounts, Plaintiffs [SEALs] have safely carried out their jobs during the pandemic. Prior to the vaccine mandate, at least six Plaintiffs conducted large-scale trainings and led courses without incident.”
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“Even if Defendants have a broad compelling interest in widespread vaccination of its force, they have achieved this goal without the participation of the thirty-five Plaintiffs here,” he added.
“At least 99.4% of all active-duty Navy servicemembers have been vaccinated.”
Mike Berry — senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, which is representing the SEALs — said in response to the DOJ’s Monday filing, “Both Judge O’Connor and the Fifth Circuit got it right; there is no Covid exception to our Constitution.
“But the Biden Administration appears to be more interested in promoting its harmful agenda than in defending the Constitution,” he continued.
Alito has given the SEALs’ legal team until next Monday to file a response to the Biden administration’s emergency motion.
The justice can then either grant or deny the DOJ’s request for emergency action or refer the matter to the full court for a decision.