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Supreme Court blocks mandate requiring better coronavirus protections for inmates in California case

David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

He was also criticized by the liberal justices and progressives for decisions that blocked judges in Wisconsin, Texas and Alabama from relaxing Republican-led state election rules to make it easier for voters to cast ballots.

In all those cases, including three involving prisons, the chief justice voted for allowing state or local officials, not federal judges, to decide on how to handle the pandemic.

He explained his view in late May when the court, by a 5-4 vote, rejected a San Diego church's challenge to an order by California Gov. Gavin Newsom that temporarily restricted church worship services to a maximum of 100 people. This rule did not discriminate based on religion, Roberts wrote, because "similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time."

"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. Our Constitution principally entrusts the safety and the health of the people to the politically accountable officials of the states to guard and protect," he wrote in South Bay United Pentecostal Church vs. Newsom. In general, their rules "should not be subject to second-guessing by an unelected federal judiciary, which lacks the background, competence, and expertise to assess public health and is not accountable to the people."

In the case of the Orange County jails, Roberts joined Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh to grant the appeal.


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