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Alito testifying before Congress in 2019. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito last night criticized some of the restrictions state and local leaders have imposed during the pandemic, saying they may violate the First Amendment and casting them as part of a long, dark turn toward lawmaking through "executive fiat."

What he's saying: "Think of all the live events that would otherwise be protected by the freedom of speech ... think of worship services ... think about access to the courts or access to a speedy trial," Alito said in a speech to the conservative Federalist Society.

Why it matters: The Supreme Court has already been asked to hear challenges to some COVID-19 measures, and may well be asked to hear more.

  • Alito said he was not weighing in on the public health merits of these policies or passing judgment on specific rules.
  • His speech, however, was about pervasive threats to constitutional liberties, and he brought up coronavirus restrictions repeatedly in that context.
  • "The COVID crisis has served as a sort of constitutional stress test, and in doing so it has highlighted disturbing trends that were already present before the virus struck," Alito said.

Among those disturbing trends, he said, is the exercise of broad authority "by executive officials who are thought to implement policies based on expertise — and in the purest form, scientific expertise."

  • Alito singled out rules in Nevada that allowed casinos to open at 50% of their normal capacity, while limiting houses of worship to 50 total people, no matter how big their building is or what precautions they have in place.
  • Those restrictions, and similar regulations in California, were appealed to the Supreme Court, which deferred to local authorities. But those policies "blatantly discriminated" against religious exercise, Alito said, and "should not have been a very tough call."

Go deeper

20 hours ago - Politics & Policy

California governor and family in quarantine after coronavirus exposure

California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) tweeted late Sunday that he and his family are quarantining after being exposed to COVID-19.

Details: Newsom said they learned Friday that three of his children had come into contact with a California Highway Patrol officer who tested positive for the coronavirus. "Thankfully, the entire family tested negative today," Newsom said.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
17 hours ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus hotspots far outpacing Europe's

Data: CSSE Johns Hopkins University, Census Bureau, United Nations; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

America's coronavirus outbreak has surpassed Europe's.

Why it matters: It wasn't long ago that public health experts were pointing to Europe as a warning sign for the U.S. But the U.S. now has a higher per capita caseload than the EU ever has during its recent surge.

Updated 17 hours ago - World

Oxford University says its coronavirus vaccine is up to 90% effective

A scientist working during at the Oxford Vaccine Group's laboratory facility at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, England, in June. Photo: Steve Parsons/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The University of Oxford announced Monday that a COVID-19 vaccine it's developed with AstraZeneca is 70.4% effective in preventing people from developing symptoms, per interim data from Phase 3 trials.

Why it matters: The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is shown to work in different age groups and can be stored at fridge temperature. It is much cheaper than other vaccines in development and is part of the global COVAX initiative, designed to ensure doses go where they're most needed.