Listening to the Oral Arguments in Biden v. Missouri (whether to stay the injunction against the CMS vaccine mandate), I heard a line of argument by some of the justices that seemed (to me, a layperson) to be outside the purview of the court. Specifically, they were arguing that allowing the injunction to remain in force may lead to more loss of life.
Justice Breyer (p. 81 of the transcript)
And the other side predicts serious harm, if the agency rule does not go into effect. And as you heard the OSHA case at the last minute, on the one hand, if they have to start complying with this, they have to get plans and the employers are hurt.
On the other hand, if they don't start to get those plans ready, people might -- well, it looks like a lot of people will get sick and take up hospital beds or worse.
So in weighing those equities, why don't we have to take and put quite a lot of weight on avoiding even by a minute or a second, because if you divide 750,000 by the number of seconds in a day, you get a lot of people. And why do we not have to take those things into account, see how the government would balance them, see if that is reasonable, and be very weary at the least of interfering with rules that will, in fact, save people's lives or hospital beds or from getting the disease?
I understand that there is a concept of "irreparable harm" when it comes to injunctions, but my understanding was that that is a premise of an injunction rather than the force behind the injunction itself. The force itself needs to be a legal argument. In this case, then, the question ultimately comes down to whether or not CMS has the legal authority to promulgate a vaccine mandate. It doesn't seem like the legality of that changes if people will otherwise die (except to the extent that prevention of loss of life is itself a legal determinant of its authority), so is it relevant for the court to consider as a standalone argument whether there will be additional loss of life.
In other words, if we were to stipulate that CMS does not have legal authority to promulgate vaccine mandates, would the court have any reason to consider the factor of loss of life?
Justice Kagan (p. 64 of the transcript)
Should it be that we decide, you know, as against what the Secretary has decided, in performing his important function of evaluating these potential disruptions and weighing those disruptions against the health benefits that he sees in that rule? Should we say we think that the -- that the disruptions are more, greater than the Secretary thought and we further would weigh them differently against the health benefits of the rural? Is that for courts to decide?
Here Justice Kagan seems to argue that it would be improper for the court to override the Secretary's assessment of what will lead to greater health benefits. But isn't that missing the point? The question for the court to determine is whether CMS exceeded it's authority or not, not whether the recommendations are sound medical advice.
Have I correctly understood the role of the Supreme Court, or does the court indeed have a duty to save lives (irrespective of the legal issues in the particular case), or have I simply misunderstood what the justices were arguing?