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Clarence Thomas cites misleading claim about Covid vaccines

The Supreme Court’s credibility was already suffering. The more justices publish misleading claims, the more it further tarnishes the court’s reputation.


As a rule, when the Supreme Court announces that it won’t hear a case, that’s not especially notable. After all, it’s what the justices include in their rulings that matters most.

There are, however, occasional exceptions.

Last summer, the state of New York created a Covid vaccine requirement for health care workers, prompting a lawsuit from a group of employees who raised religious objections. Lawyers for the state made the fairly obvious case that health care workers already had to be vaccinated against measles and rubella, and there were no religious exemptions, so the lawsuit lacked merit.

The plaintiffs nevertheless appealed their case to the Supreme Court, which announced this afternoon that it wouldn’t consider the matter. That wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was the dissent from three far-right justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch — who said the high court should’ve agreed to hear the case.

Writing for the dissenters and citing the plaintiffs, Thomas' dissent read:

“Petitioners are 16 healthcare workers who served New York communities throughout the COVID–19 pandemic. They object on religious grounds to all available COVID–19 vaccines because they were developed using cell lines derived from aborted children.”

That was needlessly inflammatory, and as an NBC News report explained, the underlying claim is misleading.

Pfizer and Moderna used fetal cell lines early in their Covid vaccine development to test the efficacy of their formulas, as other vaccines have in the past. The fetal tissue used in these processes came from elective abortions that happened decades ago. But the cells have since replicated many times, so none of the original tissue is involved in the making of modern vaccines. So it is not true that Covid vaccines are manufactured using fetal cell lines, nor do they contain any aborted cells.

The NBC News report added that the vaccines “contain messenger RNA — genetic material that instructs our cells to make proteins, which then train the immune system to fight off the coronavirus. They also include fatty substances called lipids that help RNA cross our cell membranes, as well as salt, sugar, and a few substances that help stabilize the other ingredients.”

The vaccines do not, in other words, come from “aborted children.”

The Supreme Court’s standing as a credible and respected institution has already suffered greatly. The more justices cite misleading claims, the more it further tarnishes the court’s reputation.

* Update: This post has been edited for clarity and accuracy.