- The Supreme Court on Wednesday announced it will hear oral arguments to legal challenges against the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccination mandates covering both healthcare employers and employers of businesses with 100 or more workers.
- The justices will consider whether the rules will take effect in a special hearing Jan. 7, amid a flurry of legal challenges to both state and federal vaccination mandates with looming deadlines for employers to comply.
- The high court already blocked challenges to three states' vaccine mandates, upholding the requirement for the jab. Though two federal courts granted preliminary injunctions to some states challenging the CMS mandate that still stands.
The fate of federal COVID-19 vaccination mandates will soon be decided by the Supreme Court as the country enters its third year of the pandemic.
Two rules are up for debate, including the CMS mandate that requires hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities to ensure staff are fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, or risk losing Medicare and Medicaid funding. That rule has no exemption for testing.
The second is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's mandate, which applies to employers with 100 or more workers, and requires they have all staff vaccinated or tested for the virus weekly.
The CMS rule has been challenged by a number of states, first in a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
In that case, U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp in the Eastern District of Missouri granted a preliminary injunction halting the federal agency from enforcing its mandate in those states, arguing CMS does not have the authority to enact such regulations.
In another case, Republican lawmakers from Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia challenged the CMS vaccine mandate. They too argued CMS lacked the authority to enact the mandate, and in the lawsuit also expressed how a mandate could exacerbate worsening labor strains, especially in rural areas.
A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in that case, and said the scope would be nationwide.
But HHS soon after filed an appeal, and a federal appeals court halted the nationwide injunction on CMS' vaccine mandate granted in that suit brought by 14 states, limiting the scope of that injunction to those specific states only.
Meanwhile, some health systems, including HCA, have stopped enforcing mandates because of the federal court decisions.
Now the Supreme Court will have the ultimate say Jan. 7 when it considers emergency applications to stay the Missouri and Louisiana injunctions, along with emergency applications to re-stay the OSHA mandate.
The American Hospital Association said it is "unheard of for the full court to hear oral argument directly on an emergency application like this," in a blog post.
"The court's order shows the legal and practical importance of the federal government's vaccine mandates and whether they should be stayed pending appellate review," AHA said.