A divided U.S. Supreme Court late Friday upheld Coronavirus restrictions placed on church gatherings by the state of California, as Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the four more liberal justices in backing the power of states to enforce measures for public health.
"Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment," the Chief Justice wrote in an unusual late night ruling.
"The notion that it is “indisputably clear” that the Government’s limitations are unconstitutional seems quite improbable," Roberts added in a three page 5-4 opinion.
The ruling came on a request from a California church to dispense with limits on church gatherings imposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Golden State.
The decision came just over a week after President Trump had very publicly pressured states to drop Coronavirus restrictions on houses of worship.
The South Bay United Pentecostal Church in San Diego argued the health requirements put in place by the Governor were far too restrictive, and violated their constitutional rights.
"Although curbing the pandemic is a laudable goal, those orders arbitrarily discriminate against places of worship in violation of their right to the Free Exercise of Religion under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," lawyers for the church argued.
That agreement resonated with the High Court's four more conservative justices.
"I would grant the Church’s requested temporary injunction because California’s latest safety guidelines discriminate against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses," wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh in his dissent. "Such discrimination violates the First Amendment."
The decision quickly struck a nerve with more conservative Republicans and supporters of the President, many of whom have long harbored doubts about Roberts, who was put on the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush.
"Chief Justice Roberts sides with the Left again," said Fox News host Laura Ingraham, as the head of the Conservative Political Action Committee called for Roberts to be impeached.
In Congress, there was anger as well.
"SHAMEFUL failure by SCOTUS to defend 1st & 5th amendments," tweeted Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH).