Back in January, a federal court in Texas shot some holes in Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for the military, saying that the Navy must allow members of the SEALs to opt out of taking the COVID vaccines if they requested a religious exemption. It was argued (correctly) in that case that the Navy was simply “rubber-stamping” denials of all such requests. Last month, the Fifth Circuit declined to block the order from the Texas court. But last night, in a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court blocked the lower court’s ruling. Roberts, Kavanaugh, and ACB sided with the court’s liberal justices in blocking the ruling. Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch dissented, saying that they would have allowed the exemptions for the unvaccinated SEALs and other special operations members to stand. (NBC News)
The Supreme Court on Friday blocked a lower court order that prevented the Navy from restricting the deployment of Navy SEALs who refuse to get a Covid vaccination.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had urged the court to remedy what he called “an extraordinary and unprecedented intrusion into core military affairs” that had no precedent in American history.
A federal judge in Texas ruled in early January that the Navy must allow members of the elite special operations community to opt out of the vaccine requirement if they had religious objections. But the judge’s order went further, forbidding commanders to make any changes to their military assignments based on a refusal to be vaccinated.
Much of the attention in this case was focused on the second part of the Texas court’s order that went considerably farther than just saying that the SEALs couldn’t be forced to take the vaccine. It also forbid the Navy from altering any of the sailors’ duty assignments as a result of not being vaccinated. The order had already been causing issues for the Navy, including one guided missile destroyer whose captain had sued to block the vaccine mandate. The Navy declared him to be a danger to the health of the crew and canceled the ship’s scheduled deployment.
We’ve covered related cases here in the past, but the same rules apply to this situation. In an ideal world, it would be great if anyone with an objection to taking the vaccines could be given an exemption and suffer no damages from it. But the military is simply different than the civilian world. Everyone is expected to follow their orders and our service members surrender a significant portion of the freedoms that the rest of us enjoy when they take the oath. The Supreme Court has backed up this premise in the past.
Writing for the majority, Kavanaugh stated that only the President, in his capacity as Commander in Chief, can make such determinations. The Texas court inserted itself into the chain of command where it holds no authority and interfered with the military’s ability to decide when and where servicemembers should be deployed.
While this is an unfortunate result for those members who are still refusing to take the vaccine, unless and until Biden reverses the vaccine mandate for the military, they’re probably going to be out of luck. And I doubt the President will be doing that any time soon, if ever. The Navy already has an extensive list of vaccines that sailors have to take, depending on where they are going to be deployed, and none of them are optional. I still recall the assembly line of doctors I had to march past prior to my first deployment to the western Pacific. I could barely move my arms for days after it was finished.
From the sound of things, the COVID vaccine has been added to that list. And unless some remarkable new information about the vaccines emerges in the future, it will probably stay on the list. I hope that fact doesn’t keep too many otherwise qualified men and women from deciding to enlist and serve their country, but this is probably just going to be a fact of life for them from here on out.