Justices won't block vaccine mandate for NY health workers

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court refused Monday to halt a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for health care workers in New York that does not offer an exemption for religious reasons.

The court acted on emergency appeals filed by doctors, nurses and other medical workers who say they are being forced to choose between their jobs and religious beliefs.

As is typical in such appeals, the court did not explain its order, although it has similarly refused to get in the way of vaccine mandates elsewhere.

Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. "Now, thousands of New York healthcare workers face the loss of their jobs and eligibility for unemployment benefits," Gorsuch wrote in a 14-page opinion that Alito joined.

New York is one of just three states, along with Maine and Rhode Island, that do not accommodate health care workers who object to the vaccine on religious grounds.

The court had previously turned away health care workers in Maine, who filed a similar challenge, with the same three justices in dissent.

As of Oct. 19, roughly 90% of health care workers were fully vaccinated and most of the rest had received one of two doses, the state told the high court. Fewer than 2% of nursing home, adult care facility and hospital workers had sought a religious exemption, the state said.

In his dissent, Gorsuch drew a link between the health care workers and the World War II-era Jehovah's Witnesses schoolchildren who refused on religious grounds to stand and salute the American flag for the Pledge of Allegiance.

The court at first refused to intervene when a public school in Pennsylvania expelled the children. But three years later, the justices overruled the earlier case in a landmark decision that declared schools couldn't force students to salute the flag or recite the pledge.

"Today, our Nation faces not a world war but a pandemic. Like wars, though, pandemics often produce demanding new social rules aimed at protecting collective interests — and with those rules can come fear and anger at individuals unable to conform for religious reasons," Gorsuch wrote.

Court won't hear Mississippi lawsuit over talcum powder

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday turned away a request by Johnson & Johnson to halt a Mississippi lawsuit over its talcum powder products.

As is typical, the high court did not say anything in turning away the case, which was included in a long list of cases the court said it would not hear.

The case dates to 2014, when Mississippi sued Johnson & Johnson. Mississippi argues the company violated state law by failing to warn users of "dangerous and potentially lethal" health risks of using its products, which Mississippi says increase the risk of ovarian cancer in women.

Johnson & Johnson says that the Food and Drug Administration had considered requiring a warning on talcum powder products and concluded that the evidence did not justify requiring one. It has argued that Mississippi is barred from suing, but Mississippi courts allowed the case to proceed.

J&J, which is based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, has stopped selling its iconic talc-based Johnson's Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada, though it remains on the market elsewhere.

Earlier this year, the court turned away a different talcum powder case involving a $2 billion verdict.

Appeal over press access in Wisconsin rejected

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a conservative think tank over Gov. Tony Evers' decision to exclude the group's writers from press briefings.

The justices acted without comment Monday, leaving in place lower court rulings that said the decision is legal.

The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy filed the lawsuit in 2019 alleging that Evers, a Democrat, violated its staffers' constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of the press and equal access.

Former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, had joined in the institute's bid for high-court review. Evers defeated Walker in 2018.

Last year, a federal judge rejected the group's arguments, saying MacIver can still report on Evers without being invited to his press briefings or being on his email distribution list. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld that ruling in April.

Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker had urged the Supreme Court to take the case, arguing that the ruling in favor of Evers allows censorship because it permits picking and choosing which reporters attend press events that have long been open to reporters but closed to the general public.

The appeals court ruled that Evers' media-access criteria was reasonable and he was under no obligation to grant access for every news outlet to every news conference.

MacIver had argued that Evers was excluding its staffers and violating their free speech rights because they are conservatives. Evers said they were excluded because they are not principally a news gathering operation and they are not neutral.

MacIver's attorney Daniel Suhr responded to the action by saying "politicians should not censor their news coverage by hand-picking who covers them."

When asked to comment on the Supreme Court's action, Evers' spokeswoman Britt Cudaback referred to the governor's legal filing in the case.

MacIver covers legislative meetings and other events at the Capitol as well as some Evers news conferences. But the institute sued after being excluded from a media briefing Evers gave for reporters on his state budget proposal in 2019. Evers wasn't present, but members of his administration provided information to reporters on embargo ahead of his budget speech to the Legislature that evening.

The appeals court noted that a limited number of reporters were allowed into the event. Reporters from The Associated Press, along with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin State Journal, were among those present for that briefing.

Former governors, including Walker, also limited the number of reporters and news outlets that could attend budget briefings and other events.