Supreme Court declines to block Maine vaccine mandate for health care workers

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to block a Maine vaccine mandate for health care workers, but the case could still go forward on other grounds before the mandate is implemented on Oct. 29, the Associated Press reports. 

Justice Stephen Breyer rejected an emergency appeal to prevent the mandate from taking effect, agreeing with a federal judge that the record shows weekly testing is not enough to stop the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus from spreading.

However, Breyer did allow for additional arguments to go forward on a different track than the emergency appeal, which means the case is not yet over.

It was the high court’s first time issuing an opinion on a statewide vaccine mandate.

Potential job loss

The mandate was imposed by Democratic Governor Janet Mills (ME), and will require hospital and nursing home workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with those refusing to comply with the mandate at risk of losing their jobs.

A Boston appeals court fast-tracked the additional arguments against the mandate, which means a ruling is possible before the deadline near the end of this month.

Founder and chair of the Liberty Counsel, Matt Staver, who’s challenging the mandate, said the Supreme Court would hear the case if an appeals court doesn’t first give the health care workers relief.

The group says it is representing 2,000 healthcare workers in the state who are citing religious reasons for refusing to comply with the vaccine mandate. The Maine mandate is not allowing religious exemptions to the requirement, only medical exemptions, as The Hill reported.

Worker shortage concerns

Dozens of health care workers have already quit their jobs amid shortages of workers throughout the state. Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston is already limiting some admissions because of an “acute shortage of nurses.”

It was unclear whether the mandate would receive any relief from the high court, which has already rejected challenges to a mandate for New York City teachers, and for Indiana University students.

Opponents say that the mandate is unconstitutional, but haven’t pointed to specific parts of the constitution that are violated. State laws requiring vaccines have long been upheld by the courts if a chance to file for an exemption is provided.

States have also been able to prohibit vaccine mandates, with Republican-led states like Florida and Texas doing so in regards to COVID-19 vaccines.

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