Supreme Court skeptical of Biden’s workplace vaccination rule

WASHINGTON (AP), -- Friday's Supreme Court conservative majority seemed skeptical of the Biden administration’s authority to impose a vaccine or testing requirement on large employers in the country. Also, the court heard arguments about a separate mandate to immunize most health care workers.

Supreme Court skeptical of Biden’s workplace vaccination rule

Arguments in these two cases are coming at a time when spiking coronavirus case due to the omicron variant is being investigated. Friday's decision by seven justices that they would wear masks while hearing arguments reflected this new phase of the pandemic.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was a diabetic since childhood and didn't appear in court. She chose to stay in her office and participate remotely. According to state officials, two lawyers representing Louisiana and Ohio argued over the phone after receiving positive COVID-19 results.

However, the COVID circumstances didn't seem to be more important than the six conservatives' views that the administration had outstepped its authority when it came to vaccine-or testing requirements for businesses with 100 or less employees.

Chief Justice John Roberts stated, "This is something that the federal government has not done before," casting doubt on the administration’s claim that the Occupational Safety & Health Act, a well-established law for half a century, gives it such broad authority.

Roberts, Justices Brett Kavanaugh (and Amy Coney Barrett) are likely to decide the outcome of both cases as they were more open to vaccine state requirements than the three conservative justices. Kavanaugh and Barrett also asked tough questions of Elizabeth Prelogar (the administration's top Supreme Court attorney).

Three of the three liberal justices on the court supported the employer rule. Justice Elena Kagan stated that officials have demonstrated "quite clearly" that no other policy can prevent sickness or death in the same degree as this one. Justice Stephen Breyer also said that he believed it was in the "public interest to suspend that rule. On Thursday, there were approximately 750,000 new patients in the country. He also stated that all hospitals are full.

Unvaccinated employees of large companies must wear masks to work starting Monday, unless the court stops enforcement. Employers may face potential penalties and testing requirements until February.

Although legal challenges to Republican-led states' and business groups' policies are still in their early stages of litigation, the outcome of the high court will likely determine the fate for vaccine requirements that affect more than 80 million people.

Sean Marotta, a Washington lawyer who represents the American Hospital Association, stated that "I believe effectively what is at stake" is whether or not these mandates will be implemented at all. The Supreme Court case does not involve the trade group.

Prelogar, an administration lawyer, told the justices that COVID-19 was "the deadliest pandemic in American History and it poses a unique workplace threat." OSHA estimates that the emergency regulation will save 6,500 lives as well as prevent 250,000 hospitalizations in six months.

Nearly 207million Americans are fully vaccinated. This is 62.3% of the country's population. More than a third have had a booster shot including the nine justices.

Andy Slavitt was a former advisor to the Biden administration regarding COVID-19. He said that vaccine requirements are very effective for 15% to 20% Americans who don't want to get a shot but will, and have no strenuous objections to getting one.

Although the high court will be weighing in on vaccine administration policies for the first-time, the justices rejected pleas to block state mandates.

A conservative majority, concerned about federal overreach, did end the federal moratorium against evictions that was put in place due to the pandemic.

Lawyer Scott Keller, representing more than 20 business groups, argued Friday that both vaccine rules would increase labor shortages and be expensive for businesses. Keller stated that workers will leave the job without a court order.

The second regulation in question is a mandate for vaccines that would be applicable to almost all healthcare staff in the country. It applies to health care providers who receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funding. This could potentially affect 76,000 home health care providers as well as health care facilities that receive Federal Medicare and Medicaid funding. There are medical and religious exceptions to the rule.

About half of the states have been blocked by the mandate due to decisions made in New Orleans and St. Louis by federal appeals courts. It has stated that it is working to enforce the mandate in the remaining states.

The court heard both cases on an emergency basis. It also took the unusual step to schedule arguments, rather than relying on briefs from the parties. A decision by the justices could be made in weeks, if not days, unlike other cases that the court hears.

The justices heard the cases in closed courtrooms due to the pandemic. Journalists, judges, court staff, and lawyers were not allowed to enter the courtroom. However, the public could not listen live. This was due to a change in the pandemic, when nearly 19 months had passed before the justices heard any cases by telephone.

The court is asking lawyers to submit negative coronavirus test results and to participate remotely in any positive tests. Ohio Solicitor General Benjamin Flowers was arguing against employer rule. He had tested positive for COVID-19 following Christmas. Although he had mild symptoms, he fully recovered. However, the court required a Sunday test to confirm the virus. A spokeswoman stated that the court ordered the testing on Sunday. He was vaccinated with a booster shot.

Louisiana Attorney General Elizabeth Murrill was speaking against the rule governing health care workers. She was also arguing remotely, state Attorney General Jeff Landry stated. Landry was present at Friday's hearings.

This is the first time that lawyers have been arguing remotely since October, when the court resumed in-person arguments.

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