WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court is undertaking two major efforts by the Biden administration to increase the country’s vaccination rate against COVID-19 at a time when coronavirus cases are increasing due to the omicron variant.
Conservatively-oriented court judges hear arguments on Friday over whether to allow the administration to enforce a vaccine or testing requirement that applies to large employers and a separate vaccine mandate for most workers in the health. The debates were to last at least two hours.
Legal challenges to the policies of states and Republican-led business groups are in their infancy, but the outcome in the High Court will likely determine the fate of vaccine needs affecting more than 80 million people.
“I think what is really at stake is whether these warrants will come into effect,” said Sean Marotta, a Washington lawyer whose clients include the American Hospital Association. The business group is not involved in Supreme Court cases.
The challengers argue that the vaccine rules are beyond the authority of the administration, but Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, wrote that both are necessary to avoid hospitalizations and unnecessary deaths.
Maintaining the vaccination mandate for healthcare workers “is likely to result in hundreds or thousands of deaths and serious illnesses from COVID-19 that could otherwise be preventable,” Prelogar wrote.
Nearly 207 million Americans, 62.3% of the population, are fully immunized, and more than a third of the country has received a booster, including all nine judges.
The court said on Friday that Judge Sonia Sotomayor would not be on the bench with her colleagues, choosing instead to participate remotely from her desk in court. Sotomayor, who has suffered from diabetes since childhood, was the only judge to wear a mask in previous pleading sessions in the courtroom.
Andy Slavitt, former Biden administration adviser on COVID-19, said vaccine requirements are extremely effective for 15-20% of Americans “who don’t like to be vaccinated, but they will and they will not. will not have any. vigorous objection.
The High Court will weigh in on the administration’s vaccination policies for the first time, though judges have rejected calls to freeze state-level mandates.
But a conservative majority concerned about the federal overrun has ended the federal moratorium on evictions put in place due to the pandemic.
Three Tories, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, likely hold the key to the outcome, Marotta said.
They broke with other right-wing judges on state mandates for healthcare workers, but joined them in allowing the evictions to resume.
The two vaccine rules will exacerbate labor shortages and cost businesses dearly, opponents said. “People will stop. It will make matters worse and they will not come back, ”said Karen Harned, executive director of the Small Business Legal Center at the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
His group is among those challenging an emergency rule passed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that requires workers in companies with 100 or more employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly and wear masks while on the job. . The rule has exceptions for those who work alone or mainly outside.
The OSHA rule is supposed to go into effect on Monday, although the agency has said it will not impose fines on companies that fail to comply until the end of February.
The immunization mandate, on the other hand, applies to virtually all health workers in the country. It covers healthcare providers who receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding, potentially affecting 76,000 healthcare facilities as well as home care providers. The rule has medical and religious exemptions.
Decisions by the New Orleans and St. Louis federal appeals courts have blocked the mandate in about half of the states. The administration said it was taking steps to implement it in the rest.
Both cases are brought to court on an urgent basis, and the court has taken the unusual step of scheduling arguments rather than simply ruling on briefs submitted by the parties. Unlike other cases the court hears, a decision by the judges could take weeks or even days.
Due to the pandemic, judges will hear cases in a courtroom closed to the public. Only judges, lawyers involved in the cases, court staff and journalists will be present. The public can listen live, however, a change made earlier in the pandemic when judges for nearly 19 months heard cases over the phone.