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Public Health Emergency: Legal Preparedness and Response

South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom


South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom (U.S. Supreme Court, May 29, 2020): The U.S. Supreme Court denied a church’s request to enjoin Governor Newsom’s Executive Order (EO) limiting attendance at places of worship to 25% of a building’s capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees. In concurrence, Chief Justice Roberts held the restrictions are consistent with the First Amendment’s Free Exercise of Religion Clause. Similar restrictions also affected secular activities (e.g., concerts, spectator sports). The EO exempted or was less restrictive concerning some secular activities (e.g., operation and patronage of grocery stores or banks). Those activities, however, are sufficiently distinct from activities at places of worship in which larger groups may congregate in enclosed settings for extended periods. Chief Justice Roberts also noted that decisions related to social distancing measures during a pandemic are best left to the broad discretion of state’s politically-accountable officials. When state officials act within constitutional boundaries, their decisions should not be second-guessed by the judiciary. Read the decision here. Read the dissent here.

View all cases in the Judicial Trends in Public Health – June 15, 2020.

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