The Supreme Court heard arguments Friday morning on whether to allow two separate Biden administration COVID vaccine mandates to take effect. Those mandates include a vaccine-or-testing requirement that applies to large employers and a separate mandate for most health care workers. Together, these mandates affect about 84 million people.
Specifically, justices are tasked with deciding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicaid and Medicare services have the authority to enforce the mandates. The challengers to the mandates argue the mandates exceed the Biden administration’s authority while disregarding state sovereignty.
”A single federal agency, tasked with occupational standards cannot commandeer businesses economy-wide to become de facto public health agencies,” Scott Keller with the National Federation of Independent Businesses said.
Meanwhile, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer wrote both Biden vaccine mandates are needed to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and deaths. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote that putting the mandates on hold “will likely result in hundreds or thousands of deaths and serious illnesses from COVID-19 that could otherwise be prevented.”
“This lies in the heartland of OSHA’s regulatory authority,” Preloger said. “Congress charged the agency with setting nationwide standards to protect the health and safety of employees through the nation, and congress specifically appropriated money to OSHA to address covid 19 in the workplace.”
Members of the court’s conservative majority appeared to express skepticism for the employer vaccine mandate early on in arguments. Justice Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts appeared to agree that the Biden administration had overstepped, and justice Amy Coney Barrett suggested the mandates had too broad a scope.
On the other hand, the three liberal judges on the court expressed support for the employer mandate. Justice Elena Kagan said officials have shown “quite clearly that no other policy will prevent sickness and death to anywhere like the degree that this one will.” Justice Stephen Breyer said he found it “unbelievable” that it could be in the “public interest” to put the employer mandate on hold.
“It was the third time this term that the justices moved highly charged and time-sensitive issues off the so-called shadow docket and onto the merits docket for full briefing and argument,” SCOTUSblog writer Amy Howe wrote.