Posts tagged with "SCOTUS"

Justice Stephen Breyer says he isn’t planning to retire; he is happy as SCOTUS’s top liberal

July 16, 2021

The liberals in Congress may say that he has worn out his welcome, but  Justice Stephen Breyer still feels very much at home at SCOTUS. He has not decided when he will retire and is especially gratified with his new role as the senior liberal on the bench, he told CNN in an exclusive interview—his first public comments amid the incessant speculation of a Supreme Court vacancy.

Indeed, amid the pressures of the recently completed session and chatter over his possible retirement, Breyer, a 27-year veteran of the high court, told CNN on Wednesday, July 14, that two factors will be overriding in his decision: “Primarily, of course, health,” said Breyer, who will turn 83 in August. “Second, the court.”

Liberal advocates, law professors, and some Democratic members of Congress have tried in public statements to persuade Breyer to leave the bench. They want Democratic President Joe Biden to be able to name a younger liberal while the Senate, which has the constitutional “advice and consent” power, holds a thin Democratic majority.

Some liberals were urging Breyer to announce a departure as the justices released their final opinions the first week in July. But Breyer has shown no desire to leave the bench at this point, especially as he has obtained more power as the ranking justice on the left after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year..

When asked directly over coffee in rural New Hampshire whether he had decided when to step down, Breyer said simply, “No.”

He brushed aside questions about the timing of a decision but was willing to speak about the factors that would influence him, including regard for the court. He also elaborated on the satisfaction his leadership role on the left wing has brought.

Breyer said his new seniority in the justices’ private discussion over cases “has made a difference to me. … It is not a fight. It is not sarcasm. It is deliberation.”

During the recent session, Breyer assumed a leading role on several major cases, including to reject a third challenge to the Affordable Care Act, to bolster student speech rights, and to give Google a victory in a multibillion-dollar copyright infringement case brought by Oracle.

He also undertook a new role in internal debate, speaking sooner in the justices’ private conferences, steered by the rhythms of seniority.

When the justices meet in private to decide how to vote on cases, the nine are alone. They call these collective sessions, the “conference.” And according to longstanding tradition, Chief Justice John Roberts, speaks first, giving his thoughts about a case and casting his vote. Next comes Justice Clarence Thomas, on the court for 30 years. Breyer is now next in the order, and the first liberal to have a shot at influencing a case and any cross-ideological consensus.

“You have to figure out what you’re going to say in conference to a greater extent, to get it across simply,” Breyer said. “You have to be flexible, hear other people, and be prepared to modify your views. But that doesn’t mean (going in with) a blank mind.”

Breyer has tried to minimize the politics of a 6-3, conservative-liberal bench in these especially polarized times. A lengthy speech he gave at Harvard Law School last April has been turned into a book that will be published in September entitled, “The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics.”

Liberals beyond the court praise his record but, as they did of Ginsburg for years, say he should make way for a new justice, particularly while Biden has a Democratic Senate.

Unlike when Ginsburg died and the 5-4 conservative-dominated court transformed to a 6-3 bench, a new Biden appointee would not change the current ideological split.

Theoretically, the Democrats should retain their one-vote advantage through at least the 2022 November midterm elections. But activists worry about any sudden change in that margin. Their concerns arise against the backdrop of 2016, when then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prevented any hearing of Obama’s choice of Merrick Garland to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia, and of 2020, when Ginsburg died and McConnell helped rush through Amy Coney Barrett as a successor in October— just days before President Donald Trump was voted out of office, CNN notes.

When the court rules in the familiar 6-3 conservative-liberal pattern, Breyer, as the senior member of the left, has the power to assign the opinion for that wing. He said his goal is a fair distribution of the dissents in prominent cases among himself, Kagan and the third liberal, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

At an institution bound by rank, Breyer knows what it is like to be on the downside of the seniority order. He spent more than 11 years as the most junior justice (nearly the court record), simply by virtue of a dearth of associate-justice appointments in that period. Samuel Alito joined in January 2006, an appointee of President George W. Bush, after Bush’s choice of Roberts to be chief justice in 2005.

Ginsburg was named to the bench in 1993, the year before Breyer. Her tenure as the senior justice on the left ran for a decade, from 2010 (when Justice John Paul Stevens retired) to 2020.

Breyer’s duration is unlikely to reach a decade, but he plainly decided it would not be a single term.

Research contact: @CNN

Supreme Court spares Obamacare from GOP challenge

June 18, 2021

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, June 17, that the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, remains valid—rejecting a claim by a group of conservative states that a recent change to the law made it unconstitutional, NBC News reports.

By a 7-2 vote, the court said the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to sue because they did not make a strong enough showing that the law harmed them. But the decision also suggested it would be difficult for any challengers to try again on the same legal theory.

Two of former President Donald Trump’s three appointees to the court— Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett—joined the majority opinion, while the third, Neil Gorsuch, dissented.

In their dissent, JusticesSamuel Alito and Gorsuch said the court should have taken the case and declared it unconstitutional.

According to NBC News, the law’s challengers, 18 red states led by Texas, urged the court to rule that Obamacare’s requirement for nearly all Americans to obtain health insurance or pay an income tax penalty — known as the individual mandate — is unconstitutional. For that reason, they said, the entire law must be scrapped.

“The plaintiffs claim that without the penalty the act’s minimum essential coverage requirement is unconstitutional,” Breyer wrote for the court’s majority, adding, “They also argue that the minimum essential coverage requirement is not severable from the rest of the act,” meaning the entire law is invalid.

“We do not reach these questions of the act’s validity, however, for Texas and the other plaintiffs in this suit lack the standing necessary to raise them,” he wrote.

Republicans have long opposed the law, former President Barack Obama’s signature legislation. But more than 20 million Americans now depend on it for their health insurance, and there is broad public support for its requirement that insurance companies must cover pre-existing health conditions.

The Supreme Court first upheld the health care law in 2012. The majority opinion written by John Roberts said the individual was a legitimate exercise of Congress’s taxing authority. But in 2017, the Republican-led Congress set the tax penalty at zero.

That led the red states to argue that because the tax was effectively eliminated, the revised law could not be saved as a tax and was therefore an unconstitutional effort to require all Americans to obtain something. A federal judge in Texas agreed, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld that ruling.

But 20 blue states, led by California, asked the Supreme Court to overturn those lower court decisions. They said with the tax penalty at zero, there effectively is no individual mandate, so the law is not unconstitutional. It may encourage Americans to buy insurance, but it does not require anyone to do anything, they said.

What’s more, the red states said Congress meant the healthcare law to work as an integrated whole. Prohibiting insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing young people to stay longer on the policies of their parents were meant to work because of the near-universal command to buy insurance. Without the mandate, the challengers said, the law falls apart.

However, the blue states said the test for deciding whether the rest of a law can be saved if part of it is struck down is a simple one: What did Congress want? They said the answer is found in the 2017 action that set the tax at zero: Congress left the rest of the law intact.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Supreme Court to take up major Second Amendment concealed-carry handgun case

April 27, 2021

The Supreme Court announced on Monday, April 26, that it will consider a case that ultimately could determine how much protection the Second Amendment provides for carrying a gun outside the home, NBC News reports..

The case represents the first time in more than a decade that the court has agreed to take up a central issue of the gun rights debate—something it has consistently ducked since issuing a landmark ruling (5-4) in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 that that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to possess firearms, independent of service in a state militia —and to use firearms for traditionally lawful purposes, including self-defense within the home.

The court agreed to hear a challenge to a New York state law that allows residents to carry a concealed handgun only if they can demonstrate a special need beyond a general desire for self-protection. The law “makes it virtually impossible for the ordinary law-abiding citizen” to get the necessary license, Paul Clement, a lawyer representing the challengers, said.

One of them, Robert Nash, said he wanted to carry a gun in response to a string of robberies in his neighborhood. Another, Brendan Koch, also cited a desire to carry a gun for protection. Both men said they had completed gun safety courses but were turned down when they applied for permits. They joined a lawsuit challenging the law brought by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association.

New York bans carrying a handgun openly. The state law says anyone seeking a license to carry a concealed weapon must demonstrate “a special need for self protection distinguishable from that of the general community or of persons engaged in the same profession.”

The law is so restrictive, Clement said, that it cannot be reconciled with the Supreme Court’s “affirmation of the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.”

Federal courts have split on the meaning of the Second Amendment’s declaration of a right to keep “and bear” arms. New York Attorney General Letitia James urged the Supreme Court not to take up this case.

James said that, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit upheld the state’s concealed carry law, it assumed a right to carry firearms outside the home. But the right is not unlimited and can be subject to state regulation, she said. New York’s law was a response to an increase in homicides and suicides committed with concealed firearms early in the 20th century, she told the Supreme Court in a written brief.

In late March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a Hawaii law similar to New York’s. The appeals court had ruled earlier that individuals do not have a Second Amendment right to carry concealed weapons in public. Its latest decision concluded that there is no general right to openly carry weapons in public

Justice Clarence Thomas has repeatedly criticized his colleagues for turning down similar cases in the past. “The right to keep and bear arms is apparently this Court’s constitutional orphan,” Thomas wrote in one dissent.

According to NBC News, last year, the court dismissed a challenge to another New York law that said residents with a permit to keep a gun at home could not take the weapon beyond city limits for use at a second home or a shooting range. The case was tossed out after the city repealed the law.

Justices Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said the court should have decided that case and declared the restriction unconstitutional. Another of the court’s conservatives, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, said then that the court should address the larger Second Amendment issue by taking up other challenges to gun restrictions, such as on carrying guns outside the home.

The court’s conservatives may have been reluctant to take up the gun rights issue in the past because they couldn’t be certain of finding a fifth vote in their favor. But the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, providing a solid 6-3 majority, likely gave them confidence to take this latest case.

It will be argued early in the fall, during the court’s next term.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Biden to unveil commission to study possible expansion of Supreme Court

April 12, 2021

President Biden was scheduled to unveil a bipartisan commission to study structural changes to the Supreme Court on Friday, April 9, according to three people knowledgeable sources, The Washington Post reports.

The move follows the appointments of three conservatives to the court during the Trump Administration: Neil Gorsuch in 2017, Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, and Amy Coney Barrett in 2020—and comes amid liberal calls for expansion to blunt the court’s conservative majority.

The commission—envisioned to include as many as three dozen people—will fulfill Biden’s campaign promise create a group to study changes to the court.

According to the Post, Biden has said he is “not a fan of court-packing,” but he faced pressure during the campaign from liberals to back changes, including court expansion, after Republicans pushed to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett shortly before the 2020 election.

The commission, however, is likely to disappoint liberals who are looking for quick action. Most of the commission’s members are academics, and they will come from a range of political backgrounds. Bob Bauer, a top lawyer on Biden’s campaign, and Cristina Rodriguez, a professor at Yale Law School, will chair the commission, which will be run out of the White House Counsel’s Office.

Other members include Caroline Fredrickson, the former president of the American Constitution Society, and Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor.

The three people familiar with the plan spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement. The White House declined to comment.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Trump to Pence: Nice career, shame if something happened to it

January 6, 2021

At his rally on the eve of the Georgia runoff election, President Donald Trump took out his frustration on his now familiar comfort piñatas—Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, the U.S. Supreme Court, and RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) of all stripes—as he struggled to cope with his loss in the 2020 election, The Daily Beast reports.

But on the stage on Monday night in Dalton, Georgia, he added a new one: Vice President Mike Pence.

 “I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” said Trump, in front of a cheering throng of supporters. “If he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”

The ostensible purpose of Trump’s trip to Georgia was to boost the chances of Senators Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia) and David Perdue (R-Georgia) as they fight to hold their Senate seats—and the GOP’s Senate majority—in Tuesday’s run-off election; and not to issue a veiled threat to the vice president to somehow block the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory on Wednesday in the Senate.

But it was just one moment out of many during a lengthy speech in which the outgoing president delivered his perfunctory lines supporting the GOP senators, but buried them within winding tirades in which he surfaced new lies and old conspiracies about the 2020 election. The focus, as ever, was on him and the election that just passed, not on the pair of GOP senators facing a hugely consequential election that looms on Tuesday, The Daily Beast noted.

The president used his perch in Dalton—possibly his last major political rally before leaving office—to solidify his list of enemies in front of his most dedicated supporters. After openly encouraging a primary challenge to Kemp, his former ally who has declined to overthrow Georgia’s election results, at a rally last month, Trump vowed on Monday to personally campaign against Kemp when he faces re-election next year.

“I’ll be here in about a year and a half campaigning against your governor,” said Trump. “I guarantee that.”

The nation’s high court was also booed and jeered at the rally, for not entertaining Team Trump’s failed legal effort to overturn the 2020 election. “I’m not happy with the Supreme Court,” complained Trump. “They’re not stepping up to the plate.”

The president also hinted at some future targets of his ire—some of whom were sitting in the crowd. On two occasions, Trump expressed his frustration that Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), who has been campaigning for Loeffler and Perdue in Georgia and was in Dalton, did not sign on to a doomed effort from GOP senators to block Biden’s Electoral College victory. On Monday, Lee circulated a letter among senators opposing that effort.

“I’m a little angry at you today,” Trump to Lee from the stage.

Pence is said to be struggling between his loyalties to the U.S. Constitution and to the current U.S. president. Sources say that the vice president plans to leave town immediately after he leaves the hill on Wednesday.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Supreme Court declines to take up Pennsylvania absentee ballot case

November 17, 2020

Even with “friends” on the high court such as Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Neil M. Gorsuch, President Donald Trump learned on November 16 that he would not be able to block all absentee ballots that arrived in Pennsylvania after Election Day.

Indeed, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a case challenging Pennsylvania’s absentee ballot receipt deadline, a few days after Republican efforts were dealt a blow in a lower court regarding late-arriving ballots, US News &World Report says.

Republicans had asked the high court to block all absentee ballots that arrived after Election Day. The justices previously upheld a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling for ballots to count that arrived up to three days after the election as long as they were postmarked by November 3.

Trump’s campaign and Republicans have waged scores of legal battles in Pennsylvania and around the country, although many of those cases have so far been unsuccessful in lower courts. Last Friday, November 13, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a GOP effort to block more than 9,000 late-arriving absentee ballots in Pennsylvania. The panel of three judges pointed out the “unprecedented challenges” facing the U.S. due to the coronavirus.

Most of the litigation from Trump’s team contests small batches of ballots that won’t be able to erase Biden’s lead in key battleground states where he’s ahead by thousands of votes. Biden currently has about 68,000 more votes than Trump in Pennsylvania, according to US News.

Since a winner was projected more than a week ago, Trump has refused to concede to President-elect Joe Biden, who flipped five states to win the White House and unseat an incumbent president.

Conservative justices had left the door open to revisiting Pennsylvania’s case post-election. Last week, Justice Samuel Alito had ordered the state to segregate the absentee ballots arriving after Election Day in the event that the late-arriving ballots are reviewed later by the high court. Prior to Election Day, Pennsylvania instructed elections officials to separate the ballots with the possibility of a court challenge.

If the high court were to eventually decide to take up the case and rule against ballots arriving after Election Day, the number of invalidated ballots would still be too small to overturn the state’s results. The president-elect also leads with 306 electoral votes compared to Trump’s 232.

Research contact: @usnews

Trump orders advisers to ‘go down fighting’

November 6, 2020

As Election Day turns into election week, Donald Trump has delivered a simple message to his closest political and legal advisers as they began charting a plan to challenge results in several key states: Give them a court fight that “they’ll never forget.”

The president’s remarks, relayed by two people familiar with them, came as election results seemed trending Joe Biden’s way. And for Team Trump, it was meant as a clarion call to use every possible legal resource and bit of political organizing to help re-tip the balance of the scale, The Daily Beast reported.

Trump told his advisers that, even if Biden were to claw the presidency away from him, he wanted them to “go down fighting” harder than they ever had before, one of the sources with direct knowledge said.

Goaded by White House messaging, his base responded:

The Michigan Republican Party did not return a request for comment from The Daily Beast.

Trump’s legal team—including George W. Bush campaign veteran Mark “Thor” Hearne—asked a court in Michigan to halt absentee ballot counts because it alleged its observers had not been granted full access to the tally, and were not permitted to watch video footage of “remote and unattended dropboxes.”

It brought a similar suit in Pennsylvania, fighting to stop the tabulation on the grounds that its overseers had not been allowed within 25 feet of the counting effort.

Further, Trump’s lawyers filed to enter an ongoing Supreme Court case, hoping to convince jurists on the highest bench to overturn a state policy that would allow counties to count votes postmarked on Election Day and received as late as Friday. Jay Sekulow, a personal attorney and confidant of Trump’s, is overseeing the Supreme Court effort.

“Lawyer city,” Joe Grogan, formerly a top domestic policy adviser to President Trump, said, describing the situation on Wednesday afternoon. “It’s going to be really ugly.”

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Dozens of Amy Coney Barrett’s Notre Dame colleagues call for halt to nomination

October 15, 2020

In a powerful showing of unity, 88 faculty members at the University of Notre Dame, where Amy Coney Barrett is a law school professor, said she should call for a halt to her Supreme Court nomination until after the November 3 presidential election, The Huffington Post reports. 

In a letter dated October10—but posted online on Tuesday, October 13—Barrett’s colleagues congratulated her on her nomination, adding: “It is vital that you issue a public statement calling for a halt to your nomination process until after the November presidential election.”

The signatories hailed from the university’s political science, sociology, history and other departments—with none from the law school.

“We ask that you take this unprecedented step for three reasons.” Barrett’s professional colleagues said:

First, voting for the next president is already underway. According to the United States Election Project (https://electproject.github.io/Early-Vote-2020G/index.html), more than seven million people have already cast their ballots, and millions more are likely to vote before election day. The rushed nature of your nomination process, which you certainly recognize as an exercise in raw power politics, may effectively deprive the American people of a voice in selecting the next Supreme Court justice. You are not, of course, responsible for the anti-democratic machinations driving your nomination. Nor are you complicit in the Republican hypocrisy of fast-tracking your nomination weeks before a presidential election when many of the same senators refused to grant Merrick Garland so much as a hearing a full year before the last election. However, you can refuse to be party to such maneuvers. We ask that you honor the democratic process and insist the hearings be put on hold until after the voters have made their choice. Following the election, your nomination would proceed, or not, in accordance with the wishes of the winning candidate.

Next, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wish was that her seat on the court remain open until a new president was installed. At your nomination ceremony at the White House, you praised Justice Ginsburg as “a woman of enormous talent and consequence, whose life of public service serves as an example to us all.” Your nomination just days after Ginsburg’s death was unseemly and a repudiation of her legacy. Given your admiration for Justice Ginsburg, we ask that you repair the injury to her memory by calling for a pause in the nomination until the next president is seated.

Finally, your nomination comes at a treacherous moment in the United States. Our politics are consumed by polarization, mistrust, and fevered conspiracy theories. Our country is shaken by pandemic and economic suffering. There is violence in the streets of American cities. The politics of your nomination, as you surely understand, will further inflame our civic wounds, undermine confidence in the court, and deepen the divide among ordinary citizens, especially if you are seated by a Republican Senate weeks before the election of a Democratic president and congress. You have the opportunity to offer an alternative to all that by demanding that your nomination be suspended until after the election. We implore you to take that step.

Senate hearings for Barrett’s confirmation began Monday and continued into Tuesday, with the nominee dodging Democrats’ questions on health care, marriage equality and abortion rights, the HuffPost reports.

Senate Republicans appear to have the necessary majority to confirm Barrett to the nation’s most powerful court. If she’s confirmed, it would cement conservatives’ hold on the court likely for years to come, with major rulings expected soon on health care, abortion, LGBTQ rights, and more.

Research contact: @HuffPost

Trump refuses to commit to peaceful power transfer on January 20

September 25, 2020

It’s the scenario that comedian Bill Maher has predicted—and feared-for four years: On September 23, .President Donald Trump said that he wouldn’t commit to a peaceful transfer of power if a tally of ballots shows Democrat Joe Biden has won the November election.

“We’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump said in response to a reporter’s question at a White House news conference on Wednesday evening. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the [mail-in] ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”

Trump has been criticizing the legitimacy of mail-in voting, which is being offered in a number of states as officials seek to limit the spread of the coronavirus at packed polling places.

As Bloomberg reported this week, the president has repeatedly claimed without evidence that mail-in voting is more susceptible to fraud than in-person voting on Election Day. Lawyers representing Trump’s campaign are challenging mail-in voting rules in several states.

What’s more, the president is threatening to simply stay put in the Oval Office, with no transfer of power in the works: “Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a transfer—a very peaceful, there won’t be a transfer, frankly,” Trump said on Wednesday. “There’ll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control, you know it. You know who knows that better than anybody else? The Democrats know that better than anybody else.”

Trump is trailing Biden in national polls and in key states.

“What country are we in?” Biden said when asked about Trump’s remarks as he returned to Delaware from campaigning in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I’m being facetious. What country are we in? Look, he says the most irrational things. I don’t know what to say about that.”

A few Republicans spoke out to condemn Trump’s remarks.

According to the Bloomberg report, on Thursday morning, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming tweeted: “The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to the survival of our Republic. America’s leaders swear an oath to the Constitution. We will uphold that oath.”

Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted Thursday that “at noon on January 20, 2021 we will peacefully swear in the President.”

Senator Mitt Romney of Utah was the first member of Trump’s party to speak out on Wednesday. “Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus. Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable,” he said on Twitter.

On Tuesday, Romney, who has often been critical of Trump and was the lone Republican to vote to convict him in this year’s Senate impeachment trial, said he supported proceeding with the president’s plan to quickly replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme

Research contact: @Bloomberg

Supreme Court tosses Nevada church’s challenge to COVID-19 orders

July 28, 2020

The Supreme Court voted 5-4 on Friday, July 24,  to reject a Nevada church’s plea to overturn state public-health orders limiting attendance at services—marking the second time Chief Justice John Roberts has joined the liberal justices to uphold emergency measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, located east of Reno in Lyon County, Nevada, argued that public-health orders issued by Governor Steve Sisolak (D) allowed casinos and other secular businesses greater leeway than houses of worship—which were capped at 50 people for indoor services, The New York Times reported.

Calvary Chapel sought to conduct services for up to 90 congregants, but pledged to implement various social-distancing rules and other measures to contain COVID-19’s spread.

Governor Sisolak said his order placed fewer restrictions on houses of worship than on movie theaters, museums and zoos. While casinos could admit up to 50% of their capacity, the governor argued that pervasive state regulation of the gambling industry, including on-premises enforcement officers, disqualified them for comparison to unregulated churches.

Lower courts declined to suspend the public-health orders during the church’s lawsuit, prompting the high court appeal, the Times said.

The Supreme Court denied the appeal without comment. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan comprised the majority.

Four of the more conservative justices dissented, as they did in May when the same majority declined to block similar California orders capping attendance at religious services.

“The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or black-jack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the principal dissent, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.

Justice Alito said that at the outbreak of the pandemic, officials should have broad discretion over emergency measures, adding that several months into the health crisis, greater court oversight was called for.

He said it was “hard to swallow” the state’s claim that casino regulators would keep a firm grip on contagion within well-attended gambling palaces while public health required holding the church to a lower limit.

Justice Kavanaugh filed a separate opinion laying out his own views of the case.

Although the majority didn’t elaborate on Friday’s order, in May, Chief Justice Roberts filed an opinion explaining why he voted to uphold Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom’s order capping attendance at indoor church services.

“The 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 chief justice wrote then, adding that the Constitution principally assigns such judgments “to the politically accountable officials of the States.”

Research contact:  @nytimes