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Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 vote ruled that California's coronavirus restrictions on religious gatherings in private homes were unconstitutional, saying the state violated the First Amendment by disfavoring religious activities.

Why it matters: The court has consistently ruled in favor of religious freedoms over coronavirus restrictions starting in November 2020 when it ruled against limitations imposed on New York's places of worship.

Context: California currently caps both religious and non-religious gatherings in homes to no more than three households.

The majority — comprised of Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Barrett — argued that California violated the Constitution by disfavoring religious activities.

  • The majority also said the state treated comparable secular operations, such as hair salons, retail stores and movie theaters, more favorably by allowing them to remain open.

In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor argued the order was constitutional since the state treated religious and non-religious activities in private homes equally under the blanket restriction.

  • The dissent also noted that the majority equated in-home religious meetings with incomparable secular activities.

Of note: Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s three liberal members in dissent, though he did not join their opinion.

  • Roberts said he would have left the 9th Circuit Court Of Appeals' order intact, which ruled that because the state treated both secular and non-secular home gatherings the same, the state restriction was constitutional, according to NPR.

Go deeper

Biden announces commission to study expanding the Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justices at Biden's inauguration in January 2021. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden will sign an executive order Friday that creates a bipartisan commission to study a number of Supreme Court reforms, including expanding the number of seats on the court, the White House said.

Why it matters: The six-month commission, promised by Biden throughout the 2020 election, will provide an analysis of the principal arguments surrounding the divisive subject. Progressives are pushing for more seats after former President Trump appointed three justices to the court.

10 mins ago - World

COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming

Recreated from Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

South Africa alerted the world to the Omicron variant. Now data out of South Africa may serve as a warning of what we're facing.

Driving the news: South Africa recorded 11,535 new cases Thursday with 22.4% of tests coming back positive — up from an average of about 300 new cases, with a 2% test positivity rate 10 days earlier. The country's top public health officials expect that exponential rise to continue as Omicron rapidly becomes the dominant variant.

BuzzFeed to go public, after shareholders approve SPAC deal

Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed is set to become publicly traded on Monday, after shareholders of a SPAC called 890 Fifth Avenue Partners voted to approve a previously-announced merger.

Yes, but: The vast majority of the money the SPAC raised in January was yanked, a signal that investors aren't very optimistic about BuzzFeed's future prospects.

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