The Supreme Court has blocked the Biden administration’s biggest drive to increase the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, which requires large-business employees to obtain a vaccine or test on a regular basis and wear a mask on the job.
At the same time, the court has granted the administration’s request to proceed with a vaccine mandate for the majority of U.S. health-care workers. The court’s directives were issued on Thursday in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak caused by the omicron variety.
The court’s conservative majority determined that the administration overstepped its power when it sought to enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate on enterprises with more than 100 employees in the United States. Over 80 million individuals would have been affected, with OSHA estimating that the regulation would save 6,500 lives and 250,000 hospitalizations over the course of six months.
“OSHA has never enforced such a requirement before. Congress hasn’t done so either. Indeed, despite enacting considerable legislation to address the COVID–19 epidemic, Congress has declined to impose any measures like to those proposed by OSHA here,” the conservatives noted in an unsigned opinion.
The court’s three liberals claimed in dissent that the court was overstepping its bounds by substituting its opinion for that of health professionals.
In a combined dissent, Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor said, “Acting outside of its authority and without legal foundation, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials charged with responding to workplace health concerns.”
“The Supreme Court has opted to prohibit common-sense life-saving standards for employees at major enterprises that were established squarely in both science and the law,” President Joe Biden stated.
Biden urged employers to implement their own immunization policies, pointing out that a third of Fortune 100 corporations have already done so.
Officials at the White House knew the OSHA rule would face legal challenges, and some privately questioned whether it would be able to withstand them.
Despite the legal challenge, the administration still sees the rule as a success because it has already prompted millions of people to get vaccinated and encouraged private businesses to implement their own requirements.
A federal appeals court in New Orleans had first stopped the OSHA policy, but a federal appellate panel in Cincinnati permitted it to go into force.
Republican-led states had challenged both rules. Furthermore, business groups criticized the OSHA emergency regulation as being too costly and likely to drive workers away at a time when finding new employees is already difficult.
The Supreme Court’s judgment was hailed by the National Retail Federation, the country’s largest retail trade group, as “a significant victory for employers.”
The court narrowly approved a nationwide vaccine mandate on a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the liberals to form a majority. The obligation applies to providers who receive federal Medicare or Medicaid payments, and it affects nearly all health-care professionals in the country. It has an impact on 10.4 million employees at 76,000 health-care facilities.
The court’s judgment, according to Biden, “will save lives.”
“The obstacles posed by a global epidemic do not empower a federal agency to wield jurisdiction that Congress has not conferred upon it,” the court noted in an unsigned opinion.
At the same time, such unusual circumstances give no justification for restricting the agency’s exercise of long-recognized powers.” In the healthcare field, the “latter principle governs,” according to the report.
The case was about whether the administration had the jurisdiction “to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undertake a medical operation they do not desire and cannot undo,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas in dissent. He claimed the administration had failed to demonstrate that Congress had given it such authority.
Thomas’ opinion was signed by Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett. Alito wrote a second dissent, which was signed by the other three conservatives.
In roughly half of the states, federal appeals courts in New Orleans and St. Louis had halted the mandate. The administration had already started enforcing it in other places.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 208 million Americans, or 62.7 percent of the population, are completely vaccinated, with more than a third of those receiving booster injections. Booster shots have been given to all nine justices.
The courthouse remains closed to the public, and lawyers and reporters are obliged to provide negative test results before entering the courtroom for arguments, while immunizations are not necessary.
Last week, the justices heard arguments on the challenges. Their questions then alluded to the jury’s divided decision on Thursday.
The Supreme Court has not taken into account a second vaccine mandate for federal contractors, which was put on hold after lower courts banned it.