A federal judge hearing a case against the state’s mandate for a vaccine against COVID-19 for health workers has ruled in favor of a request filed by two media companies challenging the plaintiffs’ anonymity.
U.S. District Court Chief Justice John D. Levy issued a 13-page ruling Tuesday, requiring previously anonymous plaintiffs to file an amended complaint – containing their names – by June 7. Governor Janet Mills and the state of Maine have been named as defendants in the case.
“After carefully weighing the relevant factors, I conclude that the applicants have not taken on the heavy burden of demonstrating the need to overcome the strong presumption in favor of public access to civil proceedings, as required of them to continue under a pseudonym,” Levy said in the ruling. you are.
The request to reveal the identity of the plaintiff was filed by the two companies that own the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal, the Morning Sentinel and the Lewiston Sun Journal.
The intervened newspapers argued that the applicants should not be allowed to continue to act under a pseudonym, as “the alleged fear of harm to the plaintiff no longer prevails over the public interest in open court proceedings”.
The plaintiffs are health workers in Maine, who in August 2021 challenged a change in state law that required employees of certain health facilities in Maine to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The plaintiffs’ reason for refusing the vaccine “is rooted in their religious opposition to abortion and their claim that fetal stem cells were used in the development of vaccines against COVID-19,” according to court documents.
Levy explained that at the beginning of the trial, he allowed health workers to proceed anonymously after they claimed that their reasonable fear of injury outweighed the public interest in an open lawsuit. Levy said he reserves the right to reconsider.
In Tuesday’s ruling, Levy said that “the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs and the resulting medical decisions not to be vaccinated against COVID-19, whether considered individually or together, are not in the best interests of confidentiality to support proceedings under the pseudonym “.
“Ultimately, however, there is almost no evidence that their fears are objectively reasonable,” Levy wrote. ‘This protocol has not shown that the applicants’ privacy interests outweigh the public interest in the presumption of openness applicable to civil proceedings.
Liberty Counsel, the conservative group that represents the plaintiffs, argues that Maine should offer religious exemption for vaccines because it offers medical exemption. The rule treats people seeking religious liberation less favorably, the Liberty Counsel said, and therefore violates their right to practice their religion freely.
It was unclear on Tuesday night whether the plaintiffs planned to appeal Levy’s decision.
Federal judges at every level – the U.S. District Court, the First U.S. District Court of Appeals in Boston, and then the U.S. Supreme Court – refused to block the entry into force of the mandate while courts considered the merits of the lawsuit. Liberty Counsel, a conservative group representing the plaintiffs, then petitioned for a certiorari, requesting a full briefing and an oral argument before the Supreme Court. The petition was rejected in February.
The mandate went into effect in October, and major healthcare providers said at the time that most workers had decided to get vaccinated and keep their jobs. The case is different from the court battle over the federal vaccine mandate for employees in private companies.
Maine did not allow hospital and nursing workers to give up injections for religious reasons, and the nine plaintiffs, who Levy now says must be identified, called for this option.
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