Fate of federal COVID-19 vaccination rules remains undecided by SCOTUS

Kelly Gooch -

Days after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments, the fate of the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccination mandate for healthcare workers and vaccinate-or-test rule for workers at larger businesses remained undecided as of the morning of Jan. 13.

The Supreme Court is considering challenges to the administration's authority to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's vaccinate-or-test mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees, and the court's conservative majority appeared skeptical about the rule after hearing oral arguments Jan. 7. 

The court is also considering CMS' vaccination mandate for eligible staff at healthcare facilities participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Justices seemed more likely to sustain that mandate, with some justices saying it was aligned with other kinds of federal oversight and was supported by healthcare organizations across the country, The New York Times reported.

On the morning ofJan. 13, the court announced just one opinion on its homepage, unrelated to the mandates. This means justices hadn't released a decision as to whether the mandates should remain in place or be struck down.

Since the nation's highest court did not temporarily halt the OSHA rule or strike it down as of Jan. 10, key parts of the rule took effect that day.

The CMS mandate requires healthcare facilities to establish a policy ensuring eligible workers are fully vaccinated, with exemptions allowed based on religious beliefs or recognized medical conditions.

Currently, the CMS mandate is blocked in half of the country by lower court decisions, and on Dec. 28, the agency released guidance that outlines enforcement action thresholds related to assessing compliance at facilities in the 25 states where its mandate is not currently blocked. 

Challenges to the OSHA and CMS requirements came to the U.S. Supreme Court on an emergency basis as the omicron variant spreads throughout the country, according to SCOTUSblog reporter Amy Howe. While the Supreme Court could have decided to issue a brief order and decline hearing arguments, they agreed to consider the challenges Jan. 7.

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