Jessica Gresko and Mark Sherman
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is refusing to say whether the nine justices have received COVID-19 vaccination booster shots, with the omicron variant surging and in-person arguments over vaccines scheduled at the court on Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in late November broadened its recommendation and said that all adults should receive COVID-19 booster shots. And leaders in both parties have made public over the past several months that they have received booster shots. That includes President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris as well as former president Donald Trump. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell got a booster shot the same day as Biden in September.
The Associated Press first asked the Supreme Court via email in mid-December whether the justices had received booster shots. Three other requests via email and phone have followed, the latest Tuesday. Court spokeswoman Patricia McCabe said she had no details to share. It was not clear why.
On Friday the court will hold a special session to weigh challenges to two Biden administration policies covering vaccine requirements for millions of workers. The first requires workers at larger companies to be vaccinated or wear face masks and get tested weekly. The other policy applies to a wide range of health care providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding.
While the justices generally make their own decisions about when and how much health information to share, the court previously announced in March of last year that all the justices had been vaccinated.
At least two justices have also had the virus. Justice Amy Coney Barrett had COVID-19 before she became a justice in October 2020. And Justice Brett Kavanaugh tested positive for the virus before the first day of the new term in October. Kavanaugh's positive test kept him off the bench and participating remotely as his colleagues returned to the courtroom for the first time in more than a year and a half during which they heard arguments by telephone.
The justices have continued through the fall to hear in-person arguments with no public allowed. In addition to the two cases the court will hear Friday, the justices are scheduled to hear another eight cases beginning Jan. 10. A number of other federal courts that, like the Supreme Court, been virtual and gone back to in-person arguments, have announced a return to virtual arguments during the omicron surge.
The justices, for their part, are tested regularly ahead of their meetings. The court has also arranged testing for lawyers present for arguments and asked journalists who are attending to have tested negative. Lawyers must be masked when they aren't arguing and court personnel and journalists also wear masks.
The justices have not been wearing masks in the courtroom with the exception of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has worn a black mask on the bench since the justices returned to in-person arguments. The 67-year-old Sotomayor has an underlying health condition. She has had diabetes since she was a child.
The CDC had in mid-November urged people 50 and older to get a booster shot. Barrett, 49, is the only justice on the court under 50 and her birthday is at the end of the month.
The other justices, in order of their age are: Justice Stephen Breyer, 83; Justice Clarence Thomas, 73; Justice Samuel Alito, 71; Chief Justice John Roberts, 66; Justice Elena Kagan, 61; Justice Brett Kavanaugh, 56, and Justice Neil Gorsuch, 54.