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Supreme Court set to rule on Biden's vaccine mandate

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Yahoo Finance's Alexis Keenan details the latest surrounding the Supreme Court's upcoming ruling on workplace vaccine mandates.

Video Transcript

EMILY MCCORMICK: Much of the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine or testing mandate went into effect earlier this week, impacting businesses with 100 or more employees. But an ongoing Supreme Court legal battle over these mandates could ultimately halt these rules. Let's bring in Yahoo Finance's legal reporter, Alexis Keenan, for the details.

And Alexis, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on this late last week. Where are we now in the court's consideration over these mandates?

ALEXIS KEENAN: Emily, we're in limbo. We're just waiting for the court to lay down these decisions and tell us what they are. So let's talk about first what they are. One is vaccine mandate as it's called, and that applies to employers with 100 or more employees and their workers, and that is requiring them to either have a vaccination, their employees, or weekly testing, and that's the employer's decision.

The other one is for health care facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid funds in their workers. Now, both of these rules require that full vaccination, and it's only the large business one where there's an exception. Now, the Supreme Court is focused on a very narrow issue, and that is the question of whether enforcement of this rule is off-limits for the Biden administration until the litigation plays out on a broader issue, and that's a constitutional issue, asking whether the mandates violate the Constitution. That will be pending lower court's decision and perhaps it will make it all the way back up to the Supreme Court. We don't know yet.

Though the enforcement decision, it also turns on the likely outcome of that broad constitutional question. So the question is, does the federal government have the power to require these private businesses and these medical businesses to ensure that they have a vaccinated workforce? Now, the key for the Biden administration here in these arguments is to persuade at least two of the justices from the court's conservative 6:4 majority that the agencies-- that's OSHA in this case and CMS in the other-- that they hold that authority in order to pass these mandates and implement them.

So one likely suspect to accomplish that goal is to persuade Chief Justice John Roberts, who has become somewhat of a swing vote. So what I'd like to do is listen to part of the line of questioning that he directed to the Department of Justice's solicitor general. So let's take a listen to his concern.

JOHN ROBERTS: It seems to me that the more and more mandates that pop up in different agencies, it's fair-- I wonder if it's not fair for us to look at the court as a general exercise of power by the federal government, and then ask the questions about why is the Congress have a say in this and why don't-- why doesn't this be the primary responsibility of the states?

ALEXIS KEENAN: So you can hear there, he is grappling with the question of whether the authority rests with the states or does it rest with the federal government. There's some other skepticism that came in as well. A long line of questioning these arguments went on for two-plus hours in each case. But one of those is also that 100 number asking for large employers that have hundreds or more employees to follow these rules, and that sometimes can seem-- there's a decent argument there that that number is arbitrary. Why not protect workers that work at businesses that have fewer than 100 employees?

So a lot of questions. Those are just part of them. It's unclear when this ruling will come down, but in the meantime, you have a lot of companies in limbo wondering what exactly they should do in order to be in compliance, not knowing how this is going to go.

- Alexis, you know, a ton of companies have already done it, anyway. Look, United Airlines required everyone to get vaccinated. Scott Kirby was crowing about that yesterday because of the 3,000 people with COVID at United. Nobody's been hospitalized. Delta, they're charging people who don't get the vaccine an additional $200 a month for the health insurance. But about-- you know, the companies are doing it regardless of the mandate, aren't they?

ALEXIS KEENAN: They are. And certainly, private companies, they can do what they want. If they want to have a very aggressive policy, they're at liberty to do that. So as to whether the federal government can tell them what to do, that's what this is about. And you also had a number of other companies going alone, really. Citigroup this week warning unvaccinated employees that they'll be fired if they're not vaccinated by January 14th. So that's a much more aggressive measure there.

Also, you had Facebook jumping in and saying that they'll require boosters for all in-person employees that actually go to a place of employment and are around other workers. And then you had, on top of that, Starbucks saying that all of their employees must be vaccinated by January 9th. But in Starbucks' case, they're going to allow for that testing option so of all of them, Starbucks or at least the ones I just mentioned, they're very much in line with what this guidance from OSHA is planning to implement but we'll just have to sit tight, wait, and see. There may be some undoing of some of these rules if it's eventually said that the government cannot go ahead and enforce these measures at least at this time.

EMILY MCCORMICK: All right, Yahoo Finance's Alexis Keenan, thank you so much for that report.