Court Battles

Biden asks Supreme Court to revive health worker vaccine mandate

The Biden administration on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to reinstate a vaccine mandate for health workers at hospitals that receive federal funding after lower courts blocked the order in roughly half of the country. 

The Department of Health and Human Services-issued vaccine mandate, which applies to most workers at health care facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funds, has been beset by numerous lawsuits since its rollout last month.

Rulings by federal judges in Missouri and Louisiana have effectively halted the public health measure in 24 states in recent weeks as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 800,000.

The administration’s Thursday request to the Supreme Court, filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), would lift, or “stay,” those court orders while the cases proceed.

“The exceptionally urgent need to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure for Medicare and Medicaid patients given the anticipated winter surge in infections tips the equities overwhelmingly in favor of a stay,” the DOJ brief reads.

Critics argue the policy could lead to staffing shortages, given the number of vaccine-opposed workers affected.

In late November, a Missouri-based federal judge blocked the mandate in response to a lawsuit brought by 10 states. That freeze remains in place in those states, which are Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The next day, in response to a separate lawsuit by 14 states, a Louisiana-based federal judge entered a temporary injunction across the country. 

But a federal appeals court on Wednesday scaled back the injunction to apply only to the 14 states that sued. Those states are Louisiana, Montana, Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio. Combined with the Missouri-based judge’s injunction, the mandate was then blocked in 24 states. 

The Biden administration’s dual requests to the justices Thursday target those court orders, which the Biden administration has challenged in intermediate appellate courts. The DOJ brief presented the justices with an alternative option to simply take up the administration’s appeals directly. 

Separately this week, a Texas judge on Wednesday granted a preliminary injunction to the state of Texas against the vaccine mandate.

Updated at 6:26 p.m.

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