The Supreme Court recently blocked President Biden’s workplace vaccine mandates.
With its ruling, the court stopped the Biden administration’s testing-or-vaccination requirement for the nation’s biggest employers. The order dealt a big blow to the federal government’s far-reaching initiative, meant to combat the coronavirus while boosting the lagging national vaccination rate.
In contrast, the court allowed a different, smaller policy to stand that requires vaccinations for most healthcare workers at facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funds. At the same time, the court has been supportive of state requirements to target the pandemic while remaining skeptical about broad federal responses.
In the ruling, all six conservative justices said that Congress had not given the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) the power to impose far-reaching requirements across the nation.
Nevetheless, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. joined the court’s three liberals to back a secretary of Health and Human Services edict requiring the vaccination of healthcare workers at facilities that receive federal funds.
The OSHA test-or-vaccine requirement would have applied to 84 million Americans, while the requirement for healthcare workers covers around 10 million individuals.
The Biden administration had hoped that the OSHA requirements would push the remaining unvaccinated to get Covid-19 shots and boosters. According to estimates, about 63 percent of the country is fully vaccinated.
Biden hoped 20 million more Americans would get the vaccine with workplace mandate. Approximately 2 million healthcare workers are vaccine holdouts, spread out across the U.S.
In response, Biden said he was disappointed the court ruled against his administration’s workplace rules.
“The Court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to require this measure, but that does not stop me from using my voice as President to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy,” said the president in a statement.
“I call on business leaders to immediately join those who have already stepped up — including one-third of Fortune 100 companies — and institute vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers, and communities.”
Justices differ, explain ruling
Justices Kavanaugh, Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Coney Barrett joined together is stopping the OSHA requirements.
Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Thomas went further, questioning exactly how much power Congress could give an agency. According to Gorsuch, if federal law “really did endow OSHA with the power it asserts, that law would likely constitute an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority.”
The highest court’s three liberal-leaning justices — Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Breyer — issued a joint dissent that criticized the majority justices and was defensive of OSHA’s authority and expertise.
“Over the past two, Covid-19 has affected — indeed transformed — virtually every workforce and workplace in the Nation,” the justices wrote. The dissent continued, stating that it was “perverse” to read federal law as “constraining OSHA from addressing one of the gravest workplace hazards in the agency’s history.”
The now-halted OSHA regulations would have required all employers with at least 100 workers to implement a weekly testing regime and masking or requiring vaccines of most workers.
Twenty-seven Republican-led states and businesses asked the court to put any federal workplace requirements on hold.
The mandate rules were set to take effect on January 4, but OSHA in response to the litigation OSHA said it would not be issuing citations for those not in compliance.
After the administration announced the vaccine mandate rules for businesses back in November, lawsuits emerged around the country. States and businesses challenging the policy for healthcare workers argued the federal government did not have coercive powers over the states.