Will the Supreme Court approve the imposition of vaccines in the US?
While the total number of COVID-19 cases registered worldwide surpassed 300 million on Friday, of which almost 59 million belong to the United States, the Supreme Court of this country began to hear the challenges to President Joe Biden’s attempt to make virus vaccines mandatory for millions of workers in his quest to slow the spread of the pandemic.
The resolution, which keeps the highest court of justice in the United States divided, could take weeks to reach and would impact some 80 million employees, as the Court must determine whether or not the Biden Administration can require companies with more than 100 employees who are vaccinated before February 9.
“This is a pandemic in which almost a million people have died,” Judge Elena Kagan said during a hearing. “It is by far the greatest danger to public health that this country has faced in the last century. And this is the policy most aimed at stopping all of this,” he added.
However, Chief Justice John Roberts cast doubt on the Administration’s argument that a half-century-old law, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, confers such broad authority. “This is something the federal government has never done before,” he quoted.
For his part, Scott Keller, former Texas attorney general, who represents business associations, said that the rule that requires vaccination against COVID would lead many workers to resign.
“It would cause the permanent displacement of workers, which would affect our national economy,” argued Keller. “Part of the problems we are seeing with this standard is that it is not really intended to regulate a hazard in the workplace,” he added.
After a first day of argumentation the three liberal magistrates of the court suggested supporting the employer rule; however, legal challenges to policies from Republican-led states and business groups and religious groups are in their early stages.
As the debate continues, as of Monday, unvaccinated employees of large companies are supposed to wear masks at work, unless the court blocks the rule’s application. But the testing requirements and potential fines for employers don’t go into effect until February.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has estimated that its emergency regulation will save, in this agency alone, some 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations for six months.
Almost 207 million Americans, 62.3% of the population, are fully vaccinated and more than a third of them have received booster shots, including the nine Supreme Court justices.
The superior court is evaluating vaccine administration policies for the first time, although judges have rejected requests to block state-level mandates.
Both the vaccination case came to court as an emergency, and the court took the unusual step of scheduling arguments rather than simply ruling on briefs submitted by the parties. Unlike other cases the court hears, a decision from the judges could come in weeks, if not days.
* With the collaboration of Lenny Castro, from San Francisco, and information from AP and AFP.
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