SCOTUS Enjoins Santa Clara County Prohibition on Indoor Worship

"This outcome is clearly dictated by this Court’s decision in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom."


On February 12, a Ninth Circuit panel upheld Santa Clara's prohibition on indoor worship. How could that opinion possibly be squared with South Bay II? It can't.

On February 17, a church in Santa Clara sought an injunction from the Supreme Court. On February 24, the County filed a reply. And on February 25, the County informed the Court that the restrictions would be lifted on March 3. The County needs to learn to play whac-a-mole. You repeal the policy before the reply brief is due.

In any event, the Court did not wait. Friday, February 26, the Court enjoined the Santa Clara policy:

The application for injunctive relief presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is granted pending disposition of the appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari, if such writ is timely sought. The Ninth Circuit's failure to grant relief was erroneous. This outcome is clearly dictated by this Court's decision in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, 592 U. S. ___ (2021). Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, this order shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the order shall terminate upon the sending down of the judgment of this Court.

"Clearly dictated." I don't remember such direct language in a shadow docket order. I'm sure the Justices were annoyed that Judges Canby, Graber, and Friedland wasted everyone's time.

Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor, dissented for the reasons set out in Kagan's South Bay II dissent.

The County should pay fees here. Enforcing their policy after South Bay II was a very poor decision.

NEXT: Beauty Pageant Has First Amendment Right to Exclude Male-to-Female Transgender Contestants

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The court does not read ordinary English, and is biased in favor of its employer, big, tyrannical government. All federal judges should be fired, and replaced with members of the jury pool who have finished the sixth grade.

  2. It’s unsurprising who nominated these judges.

    But this gets to a much larger problem. Why are certain circuit court judges not following clearly dictated SCOTUS precedence? What happens if they do it again? Is there any recourse?

    1. Vote for originalist judges or for politicians who will appoint them.

    2. I don’t know. Ask the judge in Tyler, Texas who ignored Wickard.

    3. The 9th Circuit distinguished the policy in South Bay Pentecostal from Santa Clara’s policy here. It said that Santa Cara’s rule, unlike the one in South Bay Pentacostal, treated churches and secular establishments similarly.

  3. “The County should pay fees here.”

    I’ll see your ‘County should pay fees’ and raise it ‘every Trump Election Litigation: Elite Strike Force lawyer should be disbarred’ and ‘every vote-suppressing Republican election litigation plaintiff should pay fees.’

    Carry on, clingers. But just so far and so long as your betters permit, as is customary.

    1. #LibertariansForShuttingDownChurches

      1. #LibertariansForDenyingPrivilegeToReasoners

    2. Typical of your bigotry and ill will

      1. How, you bigoted rube, is advocating accountability for Trump’s incompetent, unethical lawyers and Republicans’ disingenuous, gullible plaintiffs bigoted?

        The superiority of your betters has made you quite cranky and resentful, Don Nico. The sole respite will be your replacement.

  4. Was Santa Clara County a party in the South Bay case? If not, then the decision in the case isn’t binding on the County.


    1. The point is that South Bay II was binding on the district and circuit courts, who chose to ignore it instead

    2. “The County should pay fees here. Enforcing their policy after South Bay II was a very poor decision.”
      – Josh Blackman

      “the Supreme Court cannot bind nonparties, or enjoin unchallenged statutes, in a given case. The Supreme Court is a court like any other, and can only issue judgments to the parties before it.”
      – Josh Blackman

      A stimulating debate between Josh Blackman and Josh Blackman.

      1. Precedence is a thing.

        1. Precedent is a better thing.

  5. While I agree with what the Supreme Court said – the result here pretty much is foreclosed by South Bay Pentecostal Church v. Newspm – I also think the Supreme Court should be more reluctant to make definitive statements in shadow docket cases where it hasn’t gotten the benefit of full briefing or argument.

    Too much of a tone of crusading eagerness to right wrongs and too quick and easy a tendency to see wrongs to right is not compatible with its role as a neutral arbiter that listens to both sides before deciding.

    Even though I agree on substance, I think this kind of language is making a mistake on style. And style can be important.

    It could have granted the motion for injunctive relief in a more neutral and judicious manner, without slapping the 9th Circuit down.

    1. To say a bit more on this, the 9th Circuit had dostinguished Santa Clara County’s policy from the one that the Supreme Court struck down in South Bay Pentecostal. In order to say definitively that the 9th Circuit got it completely wrong, I think the Supreme Court owed it to the 9th Circuit, and perhaps more importantly the public, to wxplain why ir thought the 9th Circuit’s call was wrong and why the distinctions between the two policies were distinctions without a difference. This would have required a merits opinion considerably longer than the two-sentence slapdown that the Supreme Court issued.

      If the Supreme Court wasn’t willing to take the time to explain itself in a reasoned way, it should have simply granted the motion without explanation. It should not have simply declared the 9th Circuit completely wrong and slapped ot down without bothering to provide a reasoned explanation.

      The Supreme Court’s legitimacy rests in no small part on its appeal to reason, not just raw power. It has to keep this in mind.

  6. What does it say that Kagan referred this to the full court, and then dissented against the injunction just as she dissented against the precedent?

    Could she have denied the injunction herself?

    Does she not believe in precedent where she previously dissented, or did she have a reason that this case somehow didn’t fall under prior precedent?


Please to post comments