The Supreme Court refused to block a state court order that requires New York’s Yeshiva University to officially recognize an LGBTQ student group.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s three liberal justices on Wednesday in a 5-4 decision that lifted a temporary hold on the state court order and denied the university an emergency request for relief.
The majority wrote that the Orthodox Jewish university first needed to pursue all options available in the state courts.
“Applicants Yeshiva University and its president seek emergency relief from a non-final order of the New York trial court, requiring the University to treat an LGBTQ student group similarly to other student groups in its student club recognition process,” the justices said.
“The application is denied because it appears that applicants have at least two further avenues for expedited or interim state court relief,” they added.
Yeshiva had brought the case to SCOTUS saying officials had exhausted all options to pause recognizing the group while the case is heard in higher state courts, in time for student clubs resuming this fall.
Last week, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who oversees New York cases, temporarily stayed the state court order — while indicating the court would have more to say on the topic going forward.
The majority of justices on Wednesday said Yeshiva would first have to ask the New York courts to expedite considering their appeal, which they say the university had not done before elevating the matter to SCOTUS.
Yeshiva could also file for permission to appeal the stay to the highest state court, they wrote.
University officials could then return to the Supreme Court, if denied both options by the state.
Justice Samuel Alito — joined by justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett — disagreed on religious freedom grounds.
“The First Amendment guarantees the right to the free exercise of religion, and if that provision means anything, it prohibits a State from enforcing its own preferred interpretation of Holy Scripture,” read the dissent. “Yet that is exactly what New York has done in this case.”
“The upshot is that Yeshiva is almost certain to be compelled for at least some period of time (and perhaps for a lengthy spell) to instruct its students in accordance with what it regards as an incorrect interpretation of Torah and Jewish law,” the justices wrote.
They added that Yeshiva would “likely win” if the case were to come again before the Supreme Court.
Eric Baxter, representing the university, said that officials would “follow the Court’s instruction.”
“Today the Supreme Court instructed Yeshiva University to make an additional effort to get the New York courts to grant them emergency relief and made clear that if that protection is not provided, they can return to the Supreme Court to seek its protection again,” said Baxter, the vice president and senior counsel at The Becket Fund.
Four current and former students filed suit in Manhattan Supreme Court last April after the college denied multiple requests to officially register the group as a student club.
The plaintiffs argued that not allowing such a group to be recognized alongside more than 100 other student clubs was discriminatory and in violation of New York’s human rights law.
New York state judge Lynn Kotler ruled in the group’s favor in June — saying that Yeshiva is not a religious corporation according to its charter, a category exempt from the anti-discrimination state law, so must formally register the club.
Higher state courts denied Yeshiva’s appeals to temporarily not recognize the club until a decision was reached, prompting the university to file its petition with SCOTUS.
The case had not been heard on its merits in New York state.