The Supreme Court says it will hold a special session in just over two weeks to hear arguments on the Biden administration's vaccine or testing requirement for large employers and a separate vaccine requirement for healthcare workers, an announcement that comes amid rising coronavirus cases.
The high court announced late Wednesday that it would hear arguments in the cases on Jan. 7, an extraordinarily fast timeline. The court had not been scheduled to hear cases again until Jan. 10.
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled 2-1 on Friday that the vaccine or testing regime for workers at larger companies could take effect. The plan requires workers at larger companies to be vaccinated or wear face masks and get tested weekly. The requirement could affect some 84 million U.S. workers.
The high court will have to grapple with whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has the authority to impose such a requirement. The requirement had been scheduled to take effect Jan. 4.
The high court also will hear arguments over a rule published Nov. 5 by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid that applies to a wide range of health care providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding. It requires their workers to receive the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 6 and be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. It was projected to affect more than 17 million workers in about 76,000 health care facilities as well as home health care providers.
Decisions by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as well as a federal judge in Texas have the mandate blocked in about half of states.
In a statement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: "Especially as the US faces the highly transmissible Omicron variant, it is critical to protect workers with vaccination requirements and testing protocols that are urgently needed. 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 health care vaccination requirement ensures that providers are protecting their patients. We are confident in the legal authority for both policies and DOJ will vigorously defend both at the Supreme Court."
The high court's decision to quickly hold arguments on the requirements was unusual. 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.” Justice Samuel Alito pushed back in September against that criticism, saying it was unwarranted.
The Supreme Court announced earlier this year that all the justices have been vaccinated. Because of the coronavirus, however, the court is not open to the public. Lawyers arguing cases must test negative COVID-19 and journalists observing arguments must also have a negative test.
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