The Supreme Court on Friday rejected an emergency request that it consider an appeal by a group of New York City teachers seeking to block a vaccine mandate over what they said was a discriminatory religious exemption policy.
The decision, issued by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, was the latest in a series of legal defeats by opponents of New York’s vaccine requirement for municipal workers and it came the same day as the deadline for such workers to get vaccinated or face dismissal.
The plaintiffs in the case had argued that the city’s vaccination requirement amounted to religious discrimination because it unfairly denied applications and did not offer exemptions for employees with unorthodox religious beliefs.
Justice Sotomayor, who oversees cases in the Second Circuit, which includes New York, Connecticut and Vermont, had rejected a challenge to the city’s vaccine mandate in October, when the mandate went into effect for public schoolteachers.
“We are pleased the U.S. Supreme Court has again denied an attempt to block the mandate,” Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said in a statement.
“The city’s goal has always been to vaccinate, not terminate,” he added. “The vast majority of city workers have stepped up to protect themselves and their communities, and the city is grateful to them.”
Barry Black, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, declined to comment on the decision.
The city’s vaccination requirement, which was introduced last fall by Bill de Blasio when he was mayor, has been effective: About 95 percent of the city’s 370,000 workers — including many teachers and other Education Department staff members — had received at least one vaccine dose as of Friday, up from 84 percent when the policy was announced in October.
But about 3,000 city workers were facing the loss of their jobs on Friday if they did not get vaccinated, and 1,000 newly hired were also being required to show proof of vaccination.
Roughly 9,000 other municipal employees were still seeking exemptions or working with their unions to avoid firing, Mayor Eric Adams said on Friday, adding that his administration was still figuring out how many would ultimately be terminated and that a tally would be released over the weekend.
Although the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration last month from enforcing a vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers, it has rejected challenges to local and state government requirements.
In December, the Supreme Court refused to block New York’s vaccine mandate for health care workers who said they had religious objections. A similar case out of Maine ended the same way in October.
The court does not typically include explanations with rulings on emergency applications like the one from the New York City teachers, and Justice Sotomayor did not offer one on Friday.