US Supreme Court Considers Putting Halt To Biden Administration’s Vaccine Mandates

The White House has said the two temporary mandates will save lives and strengthen the country's economy by increasing the number of vaccinated Americans by the millions.

Published: January 7, 2022 6:09 PM IST

By News Desk | Edited by Sanstuti Nath

President Joe Biden speaks during his meeting with members of the White House Covid-19 Response Team on the latest developments related to the Omicron variant in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, December 9, 2021.(AFP Photo)
President Joe Biden (File Photo)

Washington:  The US Supreme Court on Friday is set is scheduled to consider requests by Republican state officials and businesses on putting a hold on President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for employers with more than 100 workers and a similar requirement for healthcare facilities, amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country. The nine justices are set to hear at least two hours of arguments beginning at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) in two cases challenging the presidential powers, reported Reuters.

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The cases come at a time when America is combating a public health crisis that has left more than 830,000 people dead in the country. The White House has said the two temporary mandates will save lives and strengthen the country’s economy by increasing the number of vaccinated Americans by the millions.

The challengers have argued that the Biden administration exceeded its authority by imposing requirements not specifically authorized by Congress and failed to follow the proper administrative processes for issuing emergency regulations. The court’s 6-3 conservative majority in the past has shown skepticism toward sweeping actions by federal agencies, according to news agency Reuters.

Under one of the policies, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) required that workers at businesses with 100 or more employees be vaccinated or tested weekly, a policy applying to more than 80 million workers nationwide. The state of Ohio and the National Federation of Independent Business are taking the lead in challenging the mandate. Religious groups including the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary are among those also seeking to block the policy in separate cases.

In the another policy under review by the Supreme Court, vaccination is mandated for an estimated 10.3 million workers at about 76,000 healthcare facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid government health insurance programs for elderly, disabled and low-income Americans.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency responsible for administering the two programs, issued the rule. The states of Missouri and Louisiana are taking the lead in seeking an order blocking the policy.

The Supreme Court has dealt with several pandemic-related cases already and rejected religious-based challenges to state vaccine requirements. Friday’s cases for the first time test the federal government’s authority to issue vaccine mandates.

The court in other pandemic-related cases has backed religious challenges to certain restrictions and ended the federal government’s residential eviction moratorium, originally imposed under former President Donald Trump.

As in many countries, vaccination has become a divisive issue in the United States, with some people adamantly opposed and many Republicans critical of mandates imposed by governments and businesses. The United States and countries around the world are facing an upswing in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Biden’s administration is asking the justices to lift orders by federal judges in Missouri and Louisiana blocking the healthcare worker mandate in half the 50 states while litigation on the legal merits of the policy continues.

The Cincinnati-based 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 17 lifted an injunction issued by another court that had blocked the OSHA rule regarding large businesses, prompting challengers to ask the Supreme Court to intervene.

Biden’s administration is arguing that Congress gave federal agencies broad leeway to require employers to protect workers and Medicare and Medicaid patients from health and safety hazards. Decisions in both cases are expected quickly, with the administration’s deadlines for compliance looming.

The nine justices spent most of the pandemic working remotely but returned to in-person arguments in October. All nine are fully vaccinated, the court said.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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Published Date: January 7, 2022 6:09 PM IST