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On the latest episode of The Hill’s “Rising,” journalist and political commentator Kim Iversen discussed recent inaccurate reporting surrounding court rulings on vaccine mandates, and also broke down how the U.S. Supreme Court might rule on the issue.
“Many of the headlines surrounding court decisions on vaccine mandates have been misleading,” Iversen said. She pointed to reports circulating on Nov. 8 that the court had ruled in favor of United Airlines’ COVID vaccine mandates for their employees.
Reuters ran an article with the headline, “U.S. judge upholds United Airlines’ COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees.”
Reuters got it wrong, Iversen said:
“What this court ruling was actually about was whether or not the United Airlines employees who have refused to get the vaccine are suffering so much imminent, irreparable harm by being put on unpaid leave that the mandate itself needed to be stopped while the courts decide on the bigger issue.
“And the courts said no — they indicated that something like money could make the situation better … plus United Airlines already said that employees can use their paid vacation and sick time while United Airlines gives them the opportunity to file for a new, non-customer-facing position.”
United also promised to restore any seniority or other benefits employees may have accrued while they were on leave.
“So the court decided these employees didn’t sound like they were being harmed to the point that it required emergency court intervention,” said Iversen.
Despite media reports, the court made it clear “the case is not about the constitutionality of efficacy of vaccine mandates promulgated by the government or private entities.”
“It’s unfortunate that it was so widely misreported,” Iversen said.
Iversen cited another example of a court case being misreported. This one involved a federal judge who refused to block mandates for federal workers and contractors, including 18 civilian service members and two marines.
“The reason the judge refused to block the mandate was because she already put a restraining order blocking the plaintiffs from being forced into the vaccine and preventing them from being fired or retaliated against in any way,” explained Iversen.
“The judge ruled that it was pointless to issue an emergency court order for a vaccine they may never need to take to prevent wage losses for jobs they may never lose,” she said. “It makes sense,” Iversen said.
At the Supreme Court level, Iversen said Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Amy Coney Barrett and Stephen Breyer have recently refused to block mandates, but none of them have given lengthy reasons for their decisions.
Barrett refused to block Indiana University’s mandate for employees and students, Sotomayor declined to block a mandate for all New York City Department of Education employees while Breyer refused to block a mandate for Maine healthcare workers seeking religious exemption.
“Because none of them gave reasons for their refusal to block mandates, and because they all come from different sides of the political aisle, it’s unclear if they agree with the mandate or if they want the cases to work their way up to the Supreme Court through the proper appeals process,” Iversen explained.
“I think we can expect the vaccine mandate question to eventually make its way up to the Supreme Court.”
Iversen said just because the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals recently put a temporary hold on the Biden administration mandate requiring all federal workers, private contractors and companies with over 100 employees to get vaccinated or test and mask, doesn’t mean the mandate has been deemed constitutional.
She said the mandate question will eventually need to have its proper day in court, and it likely won’t be one court case but several vaccine mandate cases all with different angles.
“One is likely to involve whether the federal government has the power to issue mandates on private businesses, another is likely to involve whether different private companies can place mandates on their employees and others are likely to involve religious exemptions,” Iversen said.
“There is no telling how our justices will rule, but it’s probably going to be a surprise.”
She said most people believe liberal justices will go with liberals and conservative justices with conservatives, but it’s not that simple in the case of vaccine mandates.
“People might expect the three liberal justices to rule in favor of vaccine mandates and the six conservative justices to rule against them, because in the world of CNN and Fox News, this is how the issue is split … but as we have already seen, the issue isn’t that simple.”
“For example,” she said, “Coney Barrett, one of the most conservative justices on the bench, refused to block Indiana University’s mandate and joined liberal justice Breyer in denying putting a stop to Maine’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers seeking a religious exemption.”
“Making it more interesting,” she explained, “conservative justice Kavanaugh, thought to be adamant about the freedom of religion, also joined conservative justice Barrett and liberal justice Breyer in refusing to stop the mandate on religious grounds.”
Three other justices, however, wrote a lengthy dissent disagreeing with the other three, arguing religious exemption deserved immediate attention.
“It’s impossible to know how our justices will rule because vaccine mandates touch on so many aspects of the law, and this case can create precedents for other cases that involve bodily autonomy,” Iversen said.
Watch the segment here: