Supreme Court sets Jan. 7 special hearing on vaccine mandate for healthcare workers

The Supreme Court is fast-tracking two legal cases challenging President Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandates, including a requirement for certain healthcare workers.

The high court announced Wednesday it will hold a special hearing Jan. 7 to hear oral arguments over federal vaccine mandates that are at the heart of the Biden administration’s efforts to address COVID in the workplace.

The Supreme Court's decision comes as the omicron variant is causing COVID-19 cases to surge nationwide.

In an unusual move, the court said it would move with exceptional speed on the two measures, a vaccine-or-testing mandate aimed at large employers and a vaccination requirement for certain healthcare workers, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The justices had not been scheduled to return to the bench until the following Monday.

The high court will hear arguments over a rule issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that applies to employers with 100 or more workers and requires they have all staff vaccinated or tested for the virus weekly. The rule could affect more than 84 million workers.

The second is a rule released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in November that requires hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities to ensure staff are fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 or risk losing Medicare and Medicaid funding.

RELATED: Biden asks Supreme Court to back health worker vaccine mandate after legal challenges

The CMS rule has been challenged by a number of states. A lower court struck down the mandate for 10 states, and a divided panel in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the government’s motion to hold off enforcing the ruling until an appeal can be heard.

Last week, a federal appeals court reinstated in 26 states the administration's vaccination mandate for health workers at hospitals that receive federal funding. As it stands, the vaccine requirement for Medicare and Medicaid providers is blocked by courts in about half of U.S. states but not in the other half, creating the potential for patchwork enforcement across the country.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) also released a legal filing last week that seeks to overturn a ruling from a federal court late last month that blocked the mandate in 10 states.

Now, the Supreme Court will have the ultimate say on the emergency applications to stay the Missouri and Louisiana district court injunctions judicially enjoining the CMS mandate in 25 states and the emergency applications to re-stay the OSHA mandate.

In a blog post, the American Hospital Association (AHA) said, "it is unheard of for the full court to hear oral argument directly on an emergency application like this."

"The court’s order shows the legal and practical importance of the federal government’s vaccine mandates and whether they should be stayed pending appellate review," the AHA wrote.

In a statement issued Wednesday night, the Biden administration vowed to "vigorously defend" the vaccine mandate initiatives.

"Especially as the U.S. faces the highly transmissible omicron variant, it is critical to protect workers with vaccination requirements and testing protocols that are urgently needed. 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," Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a statement.