The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on two cases related to the COVID vaccine mandates put in place by the federal government in a rare Friday (January 7) session. The first case involved an order requiring healthcare workers at facilities that receive federal funding to be fully vaccinated. The second case involved a mandate issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that requires all companies with more than 100 employees to require their workers to be vaccinated or undergo mandatory COVID-19 tests.
The Court's conservative justices appeared skeptical that federal agencies had the authority to enforce the overly broad mandates.
"I understand the idea that agencies are more expert than Congress. I understand the idea that they can move more quickly than Congress. But this is something that the federal government has never done before," Chief Justice John Roberts said.
Roberts pointed out that Congress has not passed any laws requiring people to get vaccinated.
"Why doesn't Congress have a say in this?" Roberts asked. "Why isn't this the primary responsibility of the states? It seems like the government is trying to work across the waterfront and going agency by agency."
The Court's liberal justices line of questioning hinted that they are supportive of the mandate.
"This is a pandemic in which nearly ten million people have died," Justice Elena Kagan said. "It is by far the greatest public health danger that this country has faced in the last century," where "more and more people are dying every day."
"It's an extraordinary use of emergency power occurring in an extraordinary circumstance, a circumstance that this country has never faced before," she added.
Justice Stephen Breyer noted that the number of cases and hospitalizations related to COVID continues to rise.
"I would find it unbelievable that it could be in the public interest to suddenly stop these vaccinations," he said.
Justice Samuel Alito suggested that the Court grant an administrative stay to block the OSHA mandate, which is set to take effect on Monday (January 10) until the case has been decided.
"Does the federal government object to our taking a couple of days, maybe, to think about this, to digest the arguments before people start losing jobs?" he asked.