Person filling syringe from vial.

The Beginning of the End of Federalism

By Jennifer Bard

Friday’s emergency hearing by the Supreme Court regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) vaccine-or-test mandate was extraordinary both in that it happened at all and what took place.

The hearing came in a response to a petition by a coalition of states and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) to halt an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) issued by OSHA mandating that all employers with over 100 employees “establish minimum vaccination standards” including “vaccination verification, face covering, and testing requirements.”

That the Court heard the case on an emergency basis signaled their concern that OSHA, in issuing the ETS, was overreaching its authority, as they ruled the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had done in issuing an eviction moratorium.

But what made the colloquies particularly unsettling is that the ETS was carefully crafted to be, as Professors Larry Gostin and Dorit Rubinstein Reiss explain lucidly, well within contemporary standards for an exercise of federal power affecting a health matter usually within the jurisdiction of a state. It applies only to employers already obligated to follow OSHA workplace standards and fell far short of a vaccine mandate. Moreover, however severe the risk of COVID when this was drafted six months ago, the risk from the Omicron variant is many times greater.

Yet the sympathetic ear given by the majority of the Justices to the arguments made by the lawyers seeking a stay made it possible to wonder if the whole thing was happening in either one of DC or the MCU’s multiverse. This is because the questioning, directly and by implication, calls into doubt what past Courts have identified as the framework of federalism — a nickname for the Constitution’s balancing of a strong federal government against the rights of individual states. We cannot know the extent to which the Justices will adopt any of the arguments offered them for limiting federal agency power, but from this hearing we can anticipate substantial strengthening of an individual state’s ability to resist federal regulation.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Major Questions about Vaccine Mandates, the Supreme Court, and the Major Questions Doctrine

By Wendy Parmet and Dorit Reiss

This Friday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about two federal vaccine mandates: the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) mandate for health care workers, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) vaccine-or-test mandate for employers with over 100 workers. In each case, a key question will be whether the Court should apply the so-called “major questions doctrine.” The Court’s adoption of this approach in the mandate cases would not only remove an important tool for combating the pandemic; it also would severely limit the federal government’s capacity to address many other health threats, while expanding the Court’s ability to substitute its judgment for Congress’.

Although not fully defined or delineated, the major questions doctrine bars administrative agencies from using broad grants of statutory authorities in new and “major” ways. A type of clear statement rule, it requires courts to presume that in the absence of specific Congressional authorization, agencies lack the power to issue new regulations that could be seen as “major.”

In theory, the rule allows courts to avoid federalism and separation of powers concerns. In practice, it empowers courts to resurrect long-discarded approaches to federalism and separation of powers without saying so. It also enables courts to disregard explicit grants of statutory authority (so much for textualism!).

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(Institute for the feeble-minded, Lincoln, Ill. / Library of Congress)

Brittney Poolaw and the Long Tradition of State-Sponsored Control of Women and Their Fertility

By Lauren Breslow

On October 5, 2021, a 20-year-old Native American woman, Brittney Poolaw, was convicted by an Oklahoma jury of manslaughter for the death of her 17-week-old, non-viable fetus.

Her conviction stands as a modern recapitulation of the historical violations that women, especially Black and Brown women, have endured regarding their fertility.

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Activists and concerned residents of New York City gathered at Union Square to demand Free, Safe and Legal Abortion on Sept 12, 2021.

Health Justice Meets Reproductive Justice

By Rachel Rebouché

Over the past few weeks, the headlines have been dominated by the implementation of a Texas “heartbeat” law. The law, which prohibits abortions after detection of fetal cardiac activity, “shall be enforced exclusively through . . . private civil actions” and “no enforcement may be undertaken by an officer of the state or local government.” For that reason, the Fifth Circuit, and then the Supreme Court, declined to enjoin the law’s application because, in part, no one had yet to enforce it. The Court did not opine on the law’s constitutionality, even though the statute directly contradicts precedent protecting abortion rights before viability. Indeed, as the DOJ argued in its recent lawsuit against Texas, the state designed the law specifically to circumvent judicial review.

What does Texas’s abortion ban have to do with health justice? The answer may not seem obvious because of how the debate over Texas’s law has been framed. Commentary has focused on whether or not litigants have standing to challenge the law or whether the federal government could successfully intervene to stop enforcement of the law. And these are important questions, especially for the providers and those “aiding and abetting” them, who are subject to the lawsuits of private citizens suing for $10,000 per procedure in violation of the law.

The costs of this law, however, could far exceed these potential damages. A health justice perspective highlights those costs and how lack of access to abortion entrenches economic and racial inequality.

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Abortion rights protest following the Supreme Court decision for Whole Women's Health in 2016

Beyond Abortion: The Far-Reaching Implications of SB 8’s Enforcement Mechanism

By Cathy Zhang

The United States Supreme Court’s refusal to block Texas’s SB 8 abortion restriction earlier this month foreshadowed an uncertain future for abortion jurisprudence and put reproductive rights at the center of national discourse.

But abortion is not the only right at stake: the novel enforcement mechanism behind SB 8 may soon appear in a wide range of legislation, making it more difficult to challenge unconstitutional laws.

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Abortion rights protest following the Supreme Court decision for Whole Women's Health in 2016

How Social Movements Have Facilitated Access to Abortion During the Pandemic

By Rachel Rebouché

Before the end of 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will reconsider its restrictions on medication abortion. The FDA’s decision could make a critical difference to the availability of medication abortion, especially if the Supreme Court abandons or continues to erode constitutional abortion rights.

Under that scenario of hostile judicial precedents, a broad movement for abortion access — including providers, researchers, advocates, and lawyers — will be immensely important to securing the availability of remote, early abortion care.

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Person typing on computer.

COVID-19 and the New Reproductive Justice Movement

By Mary Ziegler

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed advocacy for reproductive rights and reproductive justice in what previously had been called an endless, unchanging, and intractable abortion conflict.

The pandemic — and the stay-at-home orders it required — finally shifted the movement’s focus to abortion access, rather than abortion rights, as exemplified by its emphasis on medication and telehealth abortion.

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image of the US Supreme Court

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board Again Survives Supreme Court Review

By Gregory Curfman

For the generic drug and biosimilar industries, the Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Arthrex, Inc. comes as a relief.

In his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts allowed the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) to survive and to continue to provide an alternative route for generic drugs and biosimilars to gain early market entry.

Patients, who may rely heavily on these less costly alternatives for their prescription drugs, will also benefit significantly from the Court’s decision in this case.

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U.S. Capitol Building at Night

A Legislative Override Could Save the ACA (and Fix Other Misapplications of Health Laws)

By John Aloysius Cogan, Jr.

The Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration need not wait for the Supreme Court to determine the fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in California v. Texas; they can take charge of the case today by enacting and signing into law overriding legislation. 

Since the threat to the ACA is based on the interpretation of a federal statute — the ACA’s “inseverability clause” — Congress is within its rights to take charge of the case. Why? Because courts are not the final word on the meaning of a statute, Congress is.

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Bill of Health - A worker gives directions as motorists wait in lines to get the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine in a parking lot at Dodger Stadium, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles, covid vaccine distribution

Can Vaccine Allocation Plans Legally Respond to Racial Disparities?

By Govind Persad

Recently, Missouri expanded phase 2 vaccination eligibility with the goal of addressing disproportionate COVID-19 impacts.

Specifically, Missouri’s policy applies to “Disproportionately Affected Populations,” which is further defined as: “Populations at increased risk of acquiring or transmitting COVID-19, with emphasis on racial/ethnic minorities not otherwise included in 1B.”

This presents a much-debated and often misunderstood question I explore in a forthcoming University of Illinois Law Review article: can COVID-19 vaccine allocation legally recognize the outsized burden of cases and deaths that racial/ethnic minority communities have borne during the pandemic?

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