South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)
Cuomo slams ruling blocking virus limits on NY houses of worship
ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo accused the U.S. Supreme Court of political partisanship after the justices narrowly rejected his coronavirus-based restrictions on religious services. He played down the impact of the ruling, suggesting that itwas a reflection of the court’s emboldened new conservativemajority.
The decision by the Supreme Court late Wednesday to suspend the 10- and 25-person capacity limitations on churches and other houses of worship in NewYorkwould seem to be a rebuke to Cuomo, who had previously won a series of legal battles over his emergency powers.
“You have a different court, and I think that was the statement that the court was making,” Cuomo said, noting worries in some quarters after President Donald Trump nominated three conservative justices on the Supreme Court in the past four years. “We know who he appointed to the court. We know their ideology.”
The justices split 5-4, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the majority. Itwas the conservative’s first publicly discernible vote as a justice. The court’s three liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts dissented.
The move was a shift for the court.
Earlier this year, when Barrett’s liberal predecessor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was still on the court, the justices divided 5-4 to leave in place pandemic-related capacity restrictions affecting churches in California and Nevada.
Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, insisted the rul
ing “doesn’thave any practical effect” because the restrictions on religious services in Brooklyn, as well as similar ones in Queens and the city’s northern suburbs, had since been eased after the positive test rates in
those areas had declined.
But less stringent capacity restrictions, also rejected by the Supreme Court’s decision, are still in place in six other counties, including in Staten Island.
After Cuomo’s remarks,
Beth Garvey, his legal counsel, said that the state believed the court’s opinion affected only the nowlapsedrestrictions inBrooklyn, and that the other six zoneswould remain intact.
Still, she added that officials would “be looking around the state at the other zones” and evaluating capacity restrictions.
Legal experts said that despite the governor’s assertion that the decision was limited to parishes and other houses of worship in Brooklyn, the court’s ruling could be used to challenge and overturn other restrictions elsewhere.
“The decision is applicable to people in similar situations,” said Norman Siegel, a constitutional lawyer and former leader of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “It’s applicable to any synagogue, any church, to any mosque, to any religious setting.”
Thedecision represented something of a Thanksgiving gift for Catholics and Orthodox Jews, who had blasted Cuomo’s rules as a profound and unfair restriction on their First Amendment freedom of religion.
“I have said from the beginning the restrictions imposed by Gov. Cuomo were an overreach that did not take into account the size of our churches or the safety protocols that have kept parishioners safe,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn on Thursday morning, noting thatCatholics had adhered to coronavirus safety protocols atMass since the virus first emerged in New York in March. “Our churches have not been the cause of any outbreaks.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan also hailed the decision, saying in a tweet, “Our churches are essential.”