U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court sets special hearing on vaccine mandates for larger workplaces, health workers

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday scheduled a Jan. 7 special hearing to consider federal vaccine mandates in larger workplaces and in health care settings that receive federal funds.

The high court ordered additional briefing by Dec. 30 and set the oral arguments for the Friday before its next week of regular oral arguments.

The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Associated Press have coverage of the orders, here and here.

“The high court’s decision to quickly hold arguments on the requirements was unusual,” the Associated Press reports. “Both issues arrived at the court on an emergency basis, and the court usually quickly decides emergency applications without the more typical full briefing and oral argument. But the court has also been criticized recently for how it handles the process, which has been called the court’s ‘shadow docket.’”

The workplace rule directs employers with more than 100 workers to require vaccinations or weekly COVID-19 tests. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had adopted the workplace mandate as an emergency temporary standard, an emergency rule that doesn’t initially have to go through the notice and comment practice.

An emergency temporary standard can be adopted when “employees are exposed to grave danger from exposure to substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful or from new hazards.”

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Cincinnati had reinstated the vaccine mandate Dec. 17.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid adopted the other vaccine mandate, which applies to employees of federal health care providers that receive Medicare of Medicaid funds. The requirement includes exemptions for religious and medical reasons.

The 5th Circuit at New Orleans had ruled Dec. 15 that an injunction blocking the mandate applies only in the 14 states that filed legal challenges. A separate ruling by another judge had enjoined enforcement of the mandate in 10 additional states.

According to the New York Times, the Supreme Court has allowed state vaccine mandates in several settings.

“But the new cases are different,” the New York Times said, “because they primarily present the question of whether Congress has authorized the executive branch to institute the requirements.

“The answer will mostly turn on the language of the relevant statutes, but there is reason to think that the court’s six-justice conservative majority will be skeptical of broad assertions of executive power.”

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