Chief Justice Roberts and the First Amendment
Article from For Liberty by Norm Leahy.
In the days before mass protests became the big story, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that California’s coronavirus-inspired limits on the size of church services did not violate the First Amendment.
In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that such limits “appear consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”
Roberts said deciding when limits on “particular social activities should be lifted,“ during the course of a pandemic, “is a dynamic and fact-intensive matter subject to reasonable disagreement.”
But great deference should be given to local officials, who are, presumably, politically accountable to the people who have to live under those restrictions:
Where those broad limits are not exceeded, they 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.
Just 10 days after it was delivered, Roberts’ opinion has become an example of just how “dynamic,” if not exactly “fact-intensive,” those presumably accountable local officials were when it came to making exceptions to their rules limiting the size of gatherings.
It’s enough to make one wonder whether some part of the First Amendment are less important than others in the minds of some members of the judiciary.
And as Jacob Sullum wrote:
Courts that see no First Amendment problem with special restrictions on religious services seem to be reasoning backward from a predetermined conclusion that state and local governments can do whatever they deem appropriate to protect public health.
Image Credit: Joe Ravi [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons