SCOTUS rules on two Biden vaccine mandates

Our weekly summary of federal news highlights SCOTUS rulings on federal vaccine mandates and congressional redistricting in Arkansas. Read all about it in this week’s edition of the Federal Tap.

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Congress is in session

Both the House and Senate are in session next week. Click here to see the full calendar for the second session of the 117th Congress.

SCOTUS is in session

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in four cases next week. To learn about the 2021-2022 term, click here.

Where was the president last week?

On Monday, Biden remained in Washington, D.C.

On Tuesday, Biden traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, where he paid respects at the crypts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Biden remained in Washington, D.C.

On Friday, Biden traveled to his private residence in Wilmington, Delaware.

President Biden’s approval rating for the 50th week of his term was 43%, about the same as the week before. President Trump’s approval rating at the same point in his term was 39.8%, up 1.5 percentage points from the week before.

Federal Judiciary

  • 78 federal judicial vacancies
  • 26 pending nominations
  • 34 future federal judicial vacancies

Upcoming Article III Judicial Vacancies

According to the latest vacancy data from the U.S. Courts, there were 34 total announced upcoming vacancies for Article III judgeships. The earliest vacancy announcement was on Jan. 22, 2021, when U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland Judge Ellen Hollander announced she would assume senior status upon the confirmation of her successor. The most recent was on Jan. 12, 2022, when U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit Judge Gregg Costa announced that he would retire on Aug. 5, 2022. Twenty-two vacancy effective dates have not been determined because the judge has not announced the date they will leave the bench. The next upcoming vacancy will occur on Jan. 21, 2022, when U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana Judge Elizabeth Foote assumes senior status. 

For historical comparison, on Jan. 16, 2021, there were 49 federal judicial vacancies and five upcoming vacancies in the federal judiciary reported by the U.S. Courts.

Redistricting update: Arkansas’ congressional district map goes into effect

On Jan. 14, the two state statutes establishing new district lines for Arkansas’ four congressional districts went into effect.

Under the new maps, two of the state’s counties will be split between multiple congressional districts: Sebastian County, which is split in two, and Pulaski County—the state’s most populous—split between three districts.

Opponents of the maps said the division of Pulaski County, where less than 50% of the population identifies as white alone, was conducted along partisan and racial lines. Supporters of the proposal said the county’s size and location in the center of the state necessitated its split so as to lower the total number of counties being split elsewhere.

Legislators voted in favor of these maps on Oct. 7, 2021, sending them to Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) for final approval. On Oct. 13, Hutchinson announced that he would not sign the maps into law, questioning the splitting of Pulaski County, and setting a 90-day period before their effective date. He said he chose not to sign the bills in order to “enable those who wish to challenge the redistricting plan in court to do so.”

No court challenges have been filed against the congressional map plans as of Jan. 13. One group, Arkansas for a Unified Natural State, announced last fall that they would gather signatures in an attempt to place the two congressional map plans on the 2022 ballot as veto referendums. As of Jan. 13, it was unclear whether the group had submitted signatures. The deadline to submit the required 53,491 valid signatures for both statutes is Jan. 15, 2022.

Supreme Court rules on two Biden vaccine mandates

On Jan. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings on two of President Joe Biden’s (D) vaccine mandates, blocking the mandate that would have applied to companies with more than 100 employees and upholding the mandate that applies to healthcare workers in facilities that participate in the Medicare or Medicaid programs. The court heard oral arguments related to the case on Jan. 7.

The court blocked the vaccine mandate for companies with more than 100 employees in a 6-3 decision, with Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) originally issued the rule as an emergency regulation on Nov. 5, 2021. On the same day the rule was released, four multistate lawsuits were filed challenging the rule. The Fifth Circuit stayed the rule in Texas v. U.S. Department of Labor, but the Sixth Circuit reversed the stay on Dec. 17, 2021.

The court upheld the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in facilities that participate in the Medicare or Medicaid programs in a 5-4 decision, with Justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas dissenting. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued the requirement on Nov. 4, 2021. Two multistate lawsuits were filed against the rule on Nov. 10 and Nov. 15. In Louisiana v. Becerra, U.S. District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty had previously issued a nationwide injunction on the rule on Nov. 30.

SCOTUS begins January sitting

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) began its new argument session of the 2021-2022 term on Jan. 10. The court is hearing arguments in person and providing audio livestreams of arguments.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor participated remotely from her office as a precaution related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, SCOTUS heard arguments in four cases. Click the links below to learn more about these cases:

Jan. 10

Jan. 11

Jan. 12

Next week, SCOTUS will hear arguments in four cases, beginning Jan. 18.

To date, the court has agreed to hear 59 cases this term. Four cases were dismissed, and one case was removed from the argument calendar. Eleven cases have not yet been scheduled for argument.