On Jan. 7, the high court is set to hear arguments on the administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large private companies and on the vaccine mandate for health care workers at facilities which is eligible for federal funding.
The main question before the court is in regards to whether Congress gave the president the necessary power to regulate the workplace and require employees to be vaccinated or regularly tested for a highly infectious virus.
The legal issues over the vaccination rules comes as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has spread across the nation, raising doubts over the holidays and forcing Americans to brace for a third year of living with a pandemic.
Two separate rules are at issue before the court. In one set of cases, the justices will decide whether the Medicare and Medicaid acts gave the secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to require workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare providers to become vaccinated or undergo regular testing.
The law says that such facilities, if they receive federal funds, may be required to take measures to protect the “health and safety” of their patients. When Biden proposed the rule in September, the administration said nearly one-third of hospital workers were not vaccinated against COVID-19 and thereby could threaten the health of their patients.
The other rule has greater reach and could affect employers with 100 or more employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Act authorized the Labor Department to adopt emergency measures to protect workers from newly revealed threats. In the past, this authority was used to regulate against asbestos, benzene and other dangerous toxins.
The Biden administration also asked the high court to intervene on one of its vaccine mandates: the mandate for health care workers. “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,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement in response to the high court calling the special hearing.
“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.”
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