The pair of requirements, which would affect tens of millions of workers, have been in legal limbo since agencies published them last year.

The broader mandate, from the Department of Labor, requires employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that their workers are vaccinated or tested weekly and wear masks at work. | Ted S. Warren/AP Photo


01/07/2022 09:30 AM EST

Updated: 01/07/2022 02:46 PM EST

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The Supreme Court on Friday weighed whether a pair of vaccine-related mandates from the Biden administration governing large businesses and health care facilities can move forward, putting on display the national divide over Covid-19 vaccination and highlighting the latest surge, driven by the Omicron variant.

Most of the conservative justices sounded sympathetic to business interests and Republican-led states trying to block the broadest rule, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard covering firms with more than 100 employees, but liberal justices sounded flabbergasted at the arguments that the rules should be halted amid the latest, huge wave of infection. The impact of that wave was evident at Friday’s hearing, which featured remote participation by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who a court spokesperson said was “not ill,” as well as attorneys arguing against the vaccination mandates.

“There are three quarters of a million new cases yesterday. … That’s ten times as many as when OSHA put this rule in,” Justice Stephen Breyer, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, said. “The hospitals are today, yesterday, full almost to the point of the maximum they’ve ever been with this disease. … I would find it unbelievable that it could be in the public interest to suddenly stop these vaccinations.”

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