Mar 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court sides with Navy in SEALs vaccine mandate case

Photo of a podium with the Defense Department logo on it
The U.S. Department of Defense seal in the Pentagon Briefing Room in Arlington, Virginia on Sept. 1, 2021. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Supreme Court Friday ruled Friday that the Navy is allowed to consider vaccination status when planning deployments or assignments for SEALS and other special operations personnel.

Why it matters: The Biden administration had asked the Supreme Court to allow the Department of Defense to enforce its vaccination requirement after a federal judge sided with 35 unvaccinated Navy SEALs in January, and said they had a right to refuse the vaccine because of their religious beliefs.

  • What they're saying: "In this case, the district court, while no doubt well-intentioned, in effect inserted itself into the Navy’s chain of command, overriding military commanders’ professional military judgments," Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion.
  • The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which the service members had argued gave them the right to a religious exemption, "does not justify judicial intrusion into military affairs in this case," Kavanaugh said.
  • "That is because the Navy has an extraordinarily compelling interest in maintaining strategic and operational control over the assignment and deployment of all Special Warfare personnel — including control over decisions about military readiness. And no less restrictive means would satisfy that interest in this context."
  • Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented.

The other side: By granting the Biden administration's request, "the Court does a great injustice to the 35 respondents — Navy SEALs and others in the Naval Special Warfare community — who have volunteered to undertake demanding and hazardous duties to defend our country," Alito wrote in a dissenting opinion.

  • "These individuals appear to have been treated shabbily by the Navy, and the Court brushes all that aside."

Worth noting: The Biden administration did not seek to block the second part of the federal judge's ruling, which said service members cannot be disciplined or discharged as a result of refusing the vaccine.

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