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Utah joins appeal asking Supreme Court to block large employer vaccine mandate

Dec 20, 2021, 6:17 PM | Updated: 8:28 pm

(CNN) — The Supreme Court Monday said it has received several appeals asking Justice Brett Kavanaugh to consider the Biden administration’s requirement that large employers mandate their employees obtain a COVID-19 vaccine or submit to weekly testing.

The appeals come as the pandemic rages globally and the omicron variant takes hold over the holiday season.

Business groups, religious nonprofits and Republican-led states—including Utah—want to freeze a federal appeals court decision from Friday that revived the mandate while the appeals process plays out. As an alternative argument, some of the parties say they want the court to step in now and hear arguments in the case, bypassing the normal appeals process.

The legal papers are directed to Kavanaugh because he has jurisdiction over the appeals court that made the ruling. He is likely to refer the matter to the full court. The court asked for responses by December 30 to the mandate challengers’ request.

Separately, the justices are already considering an appeal to the Biden’s administration vaccine mandate aimed at health care workers. The court has also asked for a response in that dispute by December 30.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which falls under the US Labor Department, unveiled the new rules on November 4, citing its authority to issue an emergency temporary standard to protect employees if they are exposed to a “grave danger.” It requires employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that their employees are fully vaccinated or undergo regular testing and wear a face covering at work.

Last Friday, OSHA posted a statement on its website saying that it was “gratified” with the appeals court decision and that to “account for any uncertainty” due to the legal changes it will not issue citations for noncompliance to employers before January 10.

In a statement Friday, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said he was disappointed in the federal appeals court’s decision.

“We remain confident that the Court will agree that the mandate is unconstitutional federal overreach,” Reyes’ statement said. “Regardless, this ruling does not immediately affect Utah because our state’s OSHA Division has not adopted the rule.”

The emergency application for an administrative stay that Utah is part of said it’s not presenting a question “whether vaccines or vaccine mandates are wise or desirable.”

“This is a pretty narrow question on just whether OSHA has the ability to do this,” said Utah Solicitor General Melissa Holyoak. “OSHA is specifically designed to regulate work hazards and this hazard goes way beyond work.”

In one application filed by the Buckeye Institute, lawyers argue that the Biden administration, “frustrated with a minority of Americans’ medical choices,” has attempted “to control and surveil the vaccination schedules of enormous swaths of the country’s population.”

Another petition from a coalition of business groups said they would be irreparably harmed by the requirement because they will “permanently lose clients and reputation as a result of losing workers who immediately quit and join smaller companies rather than be vaccinated or tested weekly.”

Lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom representing religious nonprofits and businesses said that OSHA had exceeded its authority in issuing the requirement. The groups say they object to the mandate’s “financial burdens, its restrictions on employee hiring, and its coercion of employee choices.”

KSL-TV’s Ladd Egan contributed to this report.

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Utah joins appeal asking Supreme Court to block large employer vaccine mandate