Supreme Court's conservative justices seem skeptical of Biden admin's workplace COVID vaccine rules

The cases are related on large employers, health-care workers

Updated: January 7, 2022 - 2:59pm

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The Supreme Court on Friday hearing oral arguments on two major Biden administration efforts to increase the country's vaccination rate against COVID-19 -- starting with the mandate requiring large-scale employers to require workers to be vaccinated or tested.

In the first case, the National Federation of Independent Business, et al., Applicants v. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, et al.

OSHA is more specifically requiring businesses with 100 or more workers either require them to be vaccinated or et tested weekly and wear masks while working, with exceptions for those who work outdoors. 

in the arguments, some in the nine-member court's conservative majority expressed skepticism for the employer rule, according to the Associated Press

Justice Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts suggested the federal government had overstepped its authority.

Roberts said it's "hard to argue" that federal officials had been given the power to act by Congress. Trump-appointee Justice Amy Coney Barrett suggested that a problem with the rule was its broad scope, also according to the wire service.

However, the court’s three liberal justices seemed to support for the employer rule.

Justice Elena Kagan said officials have shown "quite clearly that no other policy will prevent sickness and death to anywhere like the degree that this one will," the wire service also reports.

Lower courts have already heard legal challenges to the mandates, but the high court's majority opinions will determine whether the vaccine requirements will impact over 80 million people in the United States, the Associated Press reports.

The OSHA rule is set to take effect Monday. However, the agency is saying it will not impose fines on businesses that don’t comply before late February.

Both cases came to the high court on an emergency basis. The justices in response scheduling arguments instead of simply ruling on briefs submitted by the parties. Unlike in other cases the high court hears, a decision from the justices is expected in weeks if not days.

The second case is Joseph R. Biden Jr., President of the United States, et al., Applicants v. Missouri, et al. and is related to vaccination requirements for health care workers.

The challengers argue that the vaccine rules in each case exceed the administration’s authority, but Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, wrote that both are needed to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and deaths.

Keeping the vaccine mandate for health care workers on hold “will likely result in hundreds or thousands of deaths and serious illnesses from COVID-19 that could otherwise be prevented,” Prelogar wrote.