Supreme Court Confirms Justices Have Received COVID Boosters Before In-Person Work

Days before they return for a special session to hear arguments over President Joe Biden's vaccine mandates, the Supreme Court confirmed Tuesday that all nine justices have received a COVID-19 booster shot.

The confirmation came as a response hours after an Associated Press story reported that after multiple attempts to get an answer over the past several weeks, the Court hadn't confirmed whether the justices had gotten the shot.

The AP reported it had requested the information on four separate occasions, including Tuesday morning, when Supreme Court spokeswoman Patricia McCabe said she had "no details to share."

The justices are set to return to the Court Friday for a special session on the federal vaccine mandates for health care workers and employees of companies with 100 or more workers. The mandates were announced this past September by the Biden administration.

A ruling in the special session could determine whether millions of workers across the United States will be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine or wear a face mask and submit to weekly testing. The other mandate affects health care providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding.

The special session was announced last month. The Court said the justices would come back days before their scheduled return on January 10 to begin their first session of 2022 and hear eight cases.

Supreme Court, Biden Administration Vaccine Mandates, Boosters
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on April 23, 2021. The Court confirmed Tuesday that all nine justices have received a COVID booster shot days before they are set to return to hear cases. Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

In late November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 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.

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. 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 and heard arguments by telephone.

A number of other federal courts that had been virtual and have gone back to in-person arguments have announced a return to virtual arguments during the Omicron variant's 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, diabetes, which she got as a child.

The CDC 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.