Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) joined a coalition of 22 states supporting the religious liberty of Navy SEALs seeking exemption from COVID-19 vaccination.
“It is absolute hypocrisy for an administration that purports to embrace diversity and inclusion to categorically dismiss the religious liberty and sincerely held beliefs of our most heroic service members,” Brnovich said in a press release on Monday. “Our Constitution and the brave men and women of our military are far more time proven than any COVID-19 vaccination.”
According to Brnovich, this case, U.S. Navy SEALs 1-26 v. Biden, had previously reached the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). However, the Biden administration asked the Court to partially stay an injunction against the vaccine mandate covering the SEALs, which the Court granted to the extent that it affected assignment, deployment, and operational decisions. The case now continues in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the coalition recently filed an amicus brief.
In the brief, the attorneys general (AGs) share that the federal government has often claimed deference afforded to military authorities for military matters in urging courts to let its policies stand, and this case is no different. The administration argued that under the circumstances created by COVID-19 and the military’s “vital interests” in maintaining a capable fighting force, vaccine mandates are needed.
However, the AGs argue that the Fifth Circuit Court should discount the Biden administration’s claim to deference in this case.
The brief justified this request by first saying deference is warranted in situations involving military matters. For example, the court previously upheld Air Force regulations involving uniform dress by “the appropriate military officials” exercising “their considered professional judgment.” However, military deference rests on the presumption that military authorities make judgments based on trustworthy, non-political assessments. If a policymaker’s actions erode that presumption, they lose any claim of deference.
SCOTUS also recognized limits to claims of deference. In one case, Ramirez v. Collier, the Court recognized that it is “not enough” to defer to an official’s determination when an individual’s religious liberties must be given away, primarily when history provides good reason to question that determination. The AGs argued that this case offers a similar situation and that the Court must “squarely consider” the competing interests without “unquestioning acceptance” of the government’s decision.
The AGs then argued that the administration’s past actions eroded its claim to deference. Courts enjoined that vaccine mandates like the federal contractor mandate, federal employee mandate, and head state mandate were issued without statutory authority. The AGs argued that as the “administration’s package of vaccine mandates was falling apart,” many recognized that the package was not issued on considered judgment of facts and circumstances but was driven by political considerations.
As an example, the AGs shared that at Biden’s State of the Union Address, he touted that “most Americans in most of the country can now be mask free,” yet, despite trying to “reap the benefits” of a world where COVID is no longer the severe threat it was once thought to be, the administration “still presses forward with its mission to mandate vaccination.”
The administration’s legal overreach and seeming political motives would erode its claim. Therefore, the AGs end the brief by requesting deference not be afforded to the federal government in this case.
According to the U.S. Navy, there have been 105,277 cases reported within the branch. Only one case has resulted in hospitalization, and 17 resulted in death. The AGO shared that 4,251 religious accommodation requests remain pending.
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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Mark Brnovich” by Mark Brnovich. Background Photo “Navy SEALS” by U.S. Navy SEAL & SWCC Page.