Gorsuch Delivers Scathing Critique of COVID Lockdowns

Justice calls COVID-19 measures historic 'intrusions on civil liberties'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 19, 2023 2:36 PM CDT
Gorsuch Delivers Scathing Critique of COVID Lockdowns
Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch poses for a portrait with other members of the Supreme Court in October.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The Supreme Court dispensed with a pandemic-related immigration case with a single sentence. But Justice Neil Gorsuch had much more to say, leveling harsh criticism of how governments responded to the gravest public health threat in a century. The justice, who was President Trump's first Supreme Court nominee, called emergency measures taken during the COVID-19 crisis that killed more than 1 million Americans perhaps "the greatest intrusions on civil liberties in the peacetime history of this country." He pointed to orders closing schools, restricting church services, mandating vaccines, and prohibiting evictions, the AP reports. His broadside was aimed at local, state, and federal officials—even his colleagues.

"Executive officials across the country issued emergency decrees on a breathtaking scale," Gorsuch wrote in an eight-page statement Thursday that accompanied the Supreme Court order formally dismissing a case involving the use of the Title 42 policy to prevent asylum seekers from entering the US. The policy was ended last week with the expiration of the public health emergency first declared more than three years ago because of the coronavirus pandemic. When the omicron variant surged in late 2021 and early 2022, Gorsuch was the lone justice to appear in the courtroom unmasked even as his seatmate, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has diabetes, reportedly did not feel safe in close quarters with people who were not wearing masks.

Sotomayor, who continues to wear a mask in public, did not take the bench with the other justices in January 2022, though the two justices denied reports they were at odds over the issue. The emergency orders about which Gorsuch complained were first announced in the early days of the pandemic, and months before the virus was well understood and a vaccine was developed. The thrust of his complaint is not new. He has written before in individual cases that came to the court during the pandemic, sometimes dissenting from orders that left emergency decrees in place. Only in his final paragraph did Gorsuch acknowledge that emergency orders sometimes are needed. "Make no mistake—decisive executive action is sometimes necessary and appropriate. But if emergency decrees promise to solve some problems, they threaten to generate others," he wrote.

(More Neil Gorsuch stories.)

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