Justices Order Calif. County To Allow Church Gatherings

By Jimmy Hoover
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Law360 (February 27, 2021, 12:05 PM EST) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday ordered Santa Clara County to allow indoor church gatherings after a group of churches said the California county was acting as an "island of tyranny" by flouting the court's earlier ruling lifting the state's ban on indoor religious services.

In a late night order, the court paved the way for weekend church services in Santa Clara County, one of the largest counties in California, which had continued to enforce a ban on all religious gatherings despite a Supreme Court ruling earlier in February lifting the governor's prohibition of indoor church services.

"This outcome is clearly dictated by this court's decision in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom," the court said in an unsigned order, referring to its Feb. 5 decision lifting California's prohibition.

Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented.

Gateway City Church and other churches said that the county "sits as an island of tyranny with a 0% capacity for indoor worship services." Santa Clara County told the court in a letter on Thursday that if a decline in COVID-19 cases continued, then the county would "allow all indoor gatherings, including indoor worship gatherings, to resume up to the same capacity as all other indoor facilities that are open to the public."

The churches are represented by Marlis McAllister of the McAllister Law Group, Kevin T. Snider and Emily C. Mimnaugh of the Pacific Justice Institute and Sharonrose Cannistraci of the Cannistraci Law Firm.

The county is represented by James R. Williams, Greta S. Hansen, Douglas M. Press, Tony LoPresti, Melissa Kiniyalocts and Hannah Kieschnick of the Santa Clara County counsel's office.

The case is Gateway City Church et al. v. Newsom et al., case number 20A138, in the U.S. Supreme Court.

--Editing by Emily Kokoll.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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Case Information

Case Title

Gateway City Church, et al., Applicants v. Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, et al.

Case Number



Supreme Court

Nature of Suit

3440 Other Civil Rights

Date Filed

February 17, 2021

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