Bloomberg Law
Dec. 17, 2021, 12:28 AM

Biden Asks High Court to Allow Health-Care Vaccine Mandate (1)

Greg Stohr
Greg Stohr
Bloomberg News

President Joe Biden’s administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let a federal vaccine mandate for health-care workers take effect nationwide, saying it could save thousands of lives during an anticipated Covid surge this winter.

In a pair of filings late Thursday, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar asked the justices to put a hold on lower court decisions that are blocking the rule in 24 states. The Republican-led states sued to block the law, saying the administration was exceeding its authority and infringing on state prerogatives.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services mandate is one prong of a broader Biden push to get workers vaccinated. The administration is separately defending vaccine rules that apply to federal contractors and employers with 100 or more workers, and those cases could reach the Supreme Court soon.

The health-care rule, which originally required workers to get their first dose by Dec. 6, applies at facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid health-care programs. It requires facilities to provide medical and religious exemptions.

“Delaying the rule would cause serious, tangible harm to public health,” Prelogar argued. “If the rule remains stayed during this winter’s anticipated COVID-19 surge, hundreds and potentially thousands of patients may die at hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid as the result of COVID-19 infections transmitted to them by staff.”

The Supreme Court so far has backed vaccine mandates. The court on Monday refused to order exemptions from New York’s health-care worker vaccine mandate for 20 providers who say they object to the shot on religious grounds. Three justices dissented.

The latest cases turn not on religious rights but on the power of federal agencies. The rule is being challenged by separate groups of states led by Missouri and Louisiana.

In siding with the Missouri group, U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp said that “the nature and breadth of the CMS mandate requires clear authorization from Congress -- and Congress has provided none.”

The cases are Biden v. Missouri, 21A240, and Becerra v. Louisiana, 21A241.

(Updates with excerpt from court filing in fourth paragraph.)

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