Supreme Court schedules special hearing on Biden's vaccination mandates

The U.S. Supreme Court will hold a special hearing next month to consider cases involving a federal COVID-19 vaccination mandate for healthcare workers and a vaccinate-or-test requirement for large businesses, The New York Times reported Dec. 22.

Both measures have faced challenges in lower courts. The CMS mandate, which applies to eligible staff at healthcare facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid programs, is blocked in about half of the country by lower court decisions in Louisiana and Missouri. On Dec. 17, a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reinstated the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's vaccinate-or-test mandate for businesses. However, more than half the states and coalitions of business and religious groups are asking the Supreme Court to block the requirements, The Washington Post reported. 

The nation's highest court said it will consider emergency requests related to both initiatives on Jan. 7, according to the Times

In a statement issued Dec. 22, the White House said it is "confident in the legal authority for both policies" and that the Justice Department "will vigorously defend both at the Supreme Court." 

"Especially as the U.S. faces the highly transmissible omicron variant, it is critical to protect workers with vaccination requirements and testing protocols that are urgently needed," the statement said. "At a critical moment for the nation's health, the OSHA vaccination or testing rule ensures that employers are protecting their employees, and the CMS healthcare vaccination requirement ensures that providers are protecting their patients." 

Challengers in both cases raise questions over federal agencies' authority to issue the rules. 

"This case does not present the question whether vaccines or vaccine mandates are wise or desirable," attorneys general wrote in a challenge to the OSHA rule brought by 27 states, according to the Post. "Instead, it presents the narrow questions whether OSHA had authority to issue the mandate, and whether it lawfully exercised whatever authority it had."

The CMS vaccination mandate is expected to cover more than 17 million workers. It requires facilities to establish a policy ensuring workers are fully vaccinated, with exemptions allowed based on religious beliefs or recognized medical conditions. 

OSHA's vaccinate-or-test mandate is expected to cover more than 80 million workers in businesses with 100 or more employees. Businesses covered by the emergency temporary standard must establish a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing and wear a face covering at work, according to OSHA. There is an exception if employees don't work in close contact with others, the Times reported. OSHA said it will not issue citations for noncompliance with any requirements of the rule before Jan. 10 and will not issue citations for noncompliance with the rule's testing requirements prior to Feb. 9.

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