The Supreme Court on Friday will hear arguments on President Joe Biden‘s most aggressive attempt to combat COVID – his vaccine and testing requirements – as the Omicron variant causes cases to spike around the country.
The justices on the conservative-leaning court will take up challenges on whether the Biden administration can enforce a vaccine-or-testing requirement that applies to business with more than 100 employees and on a separate vaccine mandate for most health care workers.
The arguments are expected to last at least two hours. Their decision could affect 100 million workers in the United States.
The challenges are being brought from 27 states led by Republican officials, businesses, religious groups and others. They argue Congress has not authorized the mandate, calling it unnecessary and saying it exceeds the administration’s authority.
The White House argues the policies are ‘critical to our nation’s Covid-19 response.’
‘Unvaccinated Americans continue to face a real threat of severe illness and death — including from Omicron,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday in a statement. ‘The need and the urgency for these policies is greater than ever, and we are confident in the legal authority for both policies.’
The Supreme Court on Friday will hear arguments on President Joe Biden’s vaccine and testing requirements
President Biden announced the new rules in November and they were challenged by officials in Republican-led states along with some businesses and religious groups
The high court will be weighing in on administration vaccine policies for the first time, although the justices have turned away pleas to block state-level mandates.
The challenges are to two different rules.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s rule, which requires workers to get vaccinated or be tested for Covid on a weekly basis, applies to companies with 100 or more employees.
The rule from the Department of Health and Human Services would require vaccination for 17 million health-care workers in facilities that treat Medicare and Medicaid patients at 76,000 facilities that receive federal money tied to those programs.
‘It is difficult to imagine a more paradigmatic health and safety condition than a requirement that workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities take the step that most effectively prevents transmission of a deadly virus to vulnerable patients,’ Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar wrote in a brief.
Technically, the court is not deciding the legality of the rules – only whether the mandates may be implemented while lawsuits challenging them continue.
The OSHA rule was originally scheduled to go into effect on January 4 but the agency delayed implementation amid the legal challenges.
Soon after Biden issued the mandate in November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit blocked it from going into affect. But another federal appeals court reinstated it in December.
In a highly unusual move, the court scheduled a public hearing to consider the emergency request for rulings.
Nearly 207 million Americans, 62.3% of the population, are fully vaccinated
Demonstrators protest masks, vaccine mandates and vaccine passports, with some supporting vaccines, at the State House in Boston on Wednesday. The event was organized by first responders in the city who will lose their jobs if they don’t get vaccinated
The Supreme Court remains closed to the public, but the justices will take the bench to hear the arguments in person. All of the justices are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot, the court has said.
Court staff, lawyers in the cases, credentialed reporters and the justices’ law clerks are allowed to attend on Friday but all must be masked and have negative test results for Covid.
The Supreme Court will provide a live audio feed on its website.
Nearly 207 million Americans, 62.3% of the population, are fully vaccinated, and more than a third of the country has received a booster shot.