The Biden administration wants to require millions of American workers to be vaccinated or tested regularly for COVID-19.
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether the Biden administration could require millions of workers at private businesses and healthcare providers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face regular coronavirus testing.
The highest court judges on Friday heard more than three and a half hours of oral arguments in two cases involving the Biden administration authority to impose comprehensive vaccine requirements on U.S. major employers.
The trial came as coronavirus cases spread across the country due to the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.
“This is something the federal government has never done before,” Chief Justice John Roberts said Friday, questioning the administration’s argument that half a century of established legislation, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, gives it wide authority.
By issue is whether the COVID-19 pandemic in the US outweighs legal claims that the administration has exceeded its authority by requiring businesses with at least 100 employees to ensure that workers are vaccinated or tested.
A line published by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in November requires businesses with 100 or more workers to ensure that employees are vaccinated or, if not, tested and masked weekly while working. There are exceptions for those who work alone or mostly outdoors.
The comprehensive OSHA rule, ratified by a lower U.S. court, applies to as many as 80 million U.S. workers and is scheduled to take effect on January 10, unless the Supreme Court blocks enforcement.
Testing requirements for unvaccinated people and possible fines for non-compliant employers will start in February.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has published a rule requiring a range of healthcare providers receiving federal funding to get employees vaccinated in full by January 4th.
It is projected that the rule would affect more than 17 million workers in approximately 76,000 health care facilities as well as home health care providers.
Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett can determine the outcome in both cases. They were more receptive to state-level vaccine requirements than the other three Conservative judges.
The court’s three liberal judges proposed support for the employer rule. Judge Elena Kagan said officials had “shown quite clearly that no other policy will prevent illness and death anywhere like the extent to which this one will do”.
Judge Stephen Breyer said he found it “incredible” that it could be in the “public interest” to stop the OSHA rule, noting that there were 750,000 new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. on Thursday and that many hospitals are full.
Roberts, Kavanaugh and Barrett apparently have less doubt about the healthcare vaccine mandate.
Kavanaugh said it is a “very unusual situation” that hospitals and health care organizations affected by the regulation “do not complain here” about the rule, but rather support it. “What should we make of it?” he asked.
Nearly 207 million Americans, 62.3 percent of the population, have been fully vaccinated, and more than a third of them have received reinforcement shots, including the nine judges.
Andy Slavitt, a former Biden administration public health adviser on COVID-19, said the vaccine requirements is extremely effective for 15 percent to 20 percent of the population “who do not like to get a shot, but they will and have no severe objection”.