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For the Fourth Time, Paul, Weiss Overcomes Challenge to N.Y. State Court Vaccine Mandate

Paul, Weiss successfully defended the vaccine mandate of our client the New York State Unified Court System—which includes 13 judicial districts across 62 counties—in the fourth such lawsuit attacking the mandate’s religious exemption on constitutional grounds.

Five state court employees who were denied religious exemptions to the court system’s vaccination requirement brought an Article 78 petition in New York Supreme Court, Rockland County, alleging that the vaccination requirement was unconstitutional and issued without the requisite legislative authority. The petitioners argued that the vaccination requirement violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and analogous provisions in the New York State Constitution, and that the religious exemption process was unconstitutional as written and as applied to them. Following briefing, Justice Thomas Zugibe rejected the petitioners’ application for declaratory judgment and damages and granted our motion to dismiss.

In a 22-page decision, the court found that the petitioners’ claims were meritless, holding the UCS “has the right to implement a vaccine mandate in order to control the outbreak of a disease” without violating petitioners’ constitutional rights. The court noted the UCS’ authority to issue the vaccine mandate is especially important “in light of the unprecedented and urgent situation the courts were faced with in its effort to safely restore as many in-person proceedings as possible,” given that “[t]he Courts have an obligation to provide safe access to justice for everyone.” He found the vaccine mandate, including its religious exemption review process—on which the Paul, Weiss team provided guidance—survived rational basis review (a test to determine whether a law or ordinance is related to a legitimate government interest), because “[p]reventing the spread of the novel and potentially fatal COVID-19 virus, both to protect the general public and to help facilitate the safe re-opening of public courthouses, is rationally related to the requirement that all UCS employees receive the vaccination.”

The Paul, Weiss team included litigation partners Bruce BirenboimLiza Velazquez and Gregory Laufer.

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