Speed Reads

Vaccines at Court

Supreme Court schedules emergency hearing to consider 2 Biden vaccine mandates

The Supreme Court said Wednesday night that it will hold a special hearing on Jan. 7 to hear oral arguments in two cases involving President Biden's vaccine requirements. The justice will consider challenges to Biden's requirement that companies with 100 or more employees ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested regularly and a separate case requiring vaccinations for about 17 million health care workers. 

Both challenges have had ups and downs in lower federal courts. The vaccine mandate for large employers was upheld last week by a divided panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, and the mandate for health care workers was blocked by lower courts covering about half the U.S. The policies had been challenged by Republican-led state governments and groups of business and religious interests. 

The Biden administration is "confident in the legal authority for both policies and [the Justice Department] will vigorously defend both at the Supreme Court," the White House said in a statement. "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."

The Supreme Court's move was unusual both because of the extraordinarily fast timeline and because the Supreme Court typically doesn't hear oral arguments in emergency cases. At the same time, the justices have been criticized by their heavy use of the emergency "shadow docket" to summarily decide momentous issues with no oral arguments at all.

It isn't clear how the justices will rule. "The Supreme Court generally has been supportive of decisions by local governments and universities to require vaccination," The Washington Post notes. "But the justices also have been skeptical of federal agencies' power to mandate pandemic-related responses."