In the state of Nevada, we know the order of things. Casinos stand atop the mountain, or at least the plateau, bringing in all that money, commerce, jobs and political influence. The church never had a chance.
The state told casinos, restaurants, amusement parks and other entertainment industries that they could reopen from the pandemic coma within 50% of their fire-code capacities. But then told churches they would be limited to a flat 50-person maximum. There were those who wondered: Why the different standards?
A church sued. And the United States Supreme Court ruled on the matter Friday night after the news cycle. The ruling didn’t go in favor of the church.
The nation’s top court ruled 5-4 against the church and for the state. Why? Nobody outside its elaborate chambers in Washington, D.C., knows just now. Because in emergency rulings such as this one, the court doesn’t typically give its reasons in writing.
But some of the judges in dissent did. Thank heavens for small favors.
Justice Samuel Alito: “The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or blackjack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance. But the governor of Nevada apparently has different priorities.”
Justice Bret Kavanaugh: “Nevada’s 50-person attendance cap on religious worship services puts praying at churches, synagogues, temples and mosques on worse footing than eating at restaurants, drinking at bars, gambling at casinos or biking at gyms. In other words, Nevada is discriminating against religion.”
Justice Neil Gorsuch: “The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges. But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.”
Oh, come now. No world which permits that? There certainly is: It’s this world. The world in which Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Soto-mayor and Elena Kagan rule on these matters. With an assist by Chief Justice John Roberts.
Mr. Justice Roberts has been criticized lately for bending the law over backwards and sideways to avoid adding to the tension in the country — when he’s not punting on a legal matter to avoid it completely — but how does this ruling diffuse anything? It was once said that major decisions from the Supreme Court were decided depending on what Sandra Day O’Connor had for breakfast. Soon the same may be said about John Roberts.
As the dissenters pointed out in their opinions, this ruling allows some casinos to bring in thousands of people to gamble indoors, inside their gambling rooms, inside their hotels. Not only that, they can allow 50% capacity at some of their circus and concert auditoriums. Which can amount to hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators.
But a church that holds 1,000 people is still limited to 50 worshippers. It may be tough to argue why 100 people in a church is more dangerous during a pandemic than 100 people watching an Elvis act. So tough that the Supreme Court’s majority didn’t argue it at all. Or provide any explanation.
It would be nice if We the People knew what the majority of the nation’s highest court was thinking in this case. Because to some of us, this has all the markings of law logic: “An artificial system of human reasoning, exclusively used in courts of justice, but good for nothing anywhere else.” — John Quincy Adams