The Supreme Court said Wednesday it will take up challenges to two of the Biden administration's Covid-19 vaccination and mask mandates early next month, agreeing to hear the cases unusually quickly.
The court said it will hear oral arguments Jan. 7 over challenges to the vaccination and mask requirements for large employers and for health care workers.
Until then, the court said, lower court rulings will remain in effect allowing enforcement of the employer mandate issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, and partial enforcement of the health care worker requirement.
The OSHA regulation, which was issued Nov. 5, requires businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure that their workforces are fully vaccinated. Workers who aren't vaccinated must be required to wear masks and show negative Covid test results at least once a week.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that the administration was "confident in the legal authority" for the mandates "and DOJ will vigorously defend both at the Supreme Court."
"At a critical moment for the nation’s health, the OSHA vaccination or testing rule ensures that employers are protecting their employees and the CMS health care vaccination requirement ensures that providers are protecting their patients," the statement said.
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the OSHA rule was "an important step in curtailing the transmission of a deadly virus that has killed over 800,000 people in the United States, brought our health care system to its knees, and cost hundreds of thousands of workers their jobs." It lifted an earlier stay that had blocked enforcement of the rule.
OSHA said it wouldn't take any enforcement steps before Jan. 10 and wouldn't issue citations for failing to comply with the testing requirements before Feb. 9 as long as employers are acting in good faith to put the rules into effect.
Business groups and states opposed to the requirement asked the Supreme Court to reimpose the stay. Wednesday's order said a decision on the request will be held until the Jan. 7 argument.
A separate federal rule requiring vaccinations for health care workers who treat Medicare and Medicaid patients is in effect in half the country. Two federal appeals courts blocked its enforcement in a total of 24 states; it remains in effect in the 26 others. The Supreme Court left that in place, as well, until January's argument.
The third Biden vaccination requirement, for federal contractors, is on hold nationwide, blocked by order of a federal judge in Georgia.