Supreme Court blocks Biden’s COVID vaccine rule for corporations, allows mandate for health care workers

Washington— The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine or test rule for businesses with at least 100 workers, but granted a separate request from the Biden administration to allow its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers to take hold effect.

In one unsigned notice On the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule, which would require workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly tests, the High Court said that a large number of states, d GOP-led businesses and nonprofits have challenged her are “likely to prevail.”

“While Congress unquestionably gave OSHA the power to regulate occupational hazards, it did not give that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly,” the court said. “Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls into the latter category.”

All three members of the court’s liberal wing – Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – dissented.

The High Court, however, gave the green light to a requirement that healthcare workers at facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding must be vaccinated, siding 5-4 with the Biden administration.

“The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not permit a federal agency to exercise a power not conferred on it by Congress,” the Supreme Court said in its unsigned second opinion. “At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances provide no reason to limit the exercise of the powers the agency has long been recognized for.”

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett dissented.

Decisions come less than a week after judges heard the arguments on emergency requests regarding the vaccine or test rule and vaccine requirement for healthcare workers.

President Biden first announced the rules in September as part of a broader strategy by his administration to combat the spread of the Delta variant, which caused a spike in infections towards the end of the summer.

But the country is now grappling with another spike in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations from the highly transmissible variant of Omicron, and the Biden administration has said its vaccine needs are critical to protecting workers. and patients.

The Supreme Court was asked to intervene last month and quickly held oral arguments to weigh the emergency requests.

In a statement, the president said he was ‘disappointed’ the court blocked OSHA’s vaccine or test rule, but said his decision upholding the requirement for healthcare workers would save patients’ lives. and employees of covered establishments.

“Following the court’s decision, it is now up to states and individual employers to determine whether they should make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees, and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic. by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step to get vaccinated,” Biden said. “The court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to demand this measure , but that doesn’t stop me from using my voice as president to call on employers to do the right thing to protect the health and economy of Americans. .”

Under OSHA rule issued in early November, companies with at least 100 employees must either require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested weekly and wear face masks. The vaccine or test rule was scheduled to go into effect Jan. 4, but OSHA said it won’t begin issuing standard-related citations until Feb. 9 as long as an employer “makes reasonable and in good faith to comply” with the requirement.

The Biden administration has estimated that more than 80 million employees could be affected by the policy.

But the OSHA rule was challenged in federal courts coast to coast and ultimately consolidated in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. A divided three-judge panel allowed the Biden administration’s rule to take effect, finding the requirements were “not a new extension of OSHA’s power; it’s an existing application of authority to a new and dangerous global pandemic”.

The Supreme Court received more than a dozen requests for emergency action in cases challenging the requirement after the U.S. 6th Circuit ruling, with trade associations, Republican-run states and private companies covered by the rule arguing that OSHA had no authority to issue the vaccine requirement.

The Supreme Court majority said the groups would likely succeed on the merits of their claim that the Secretary of Labor, acting through OSHA, had no authority to impose the vaccine rule or of the test.

“Allowing OSHA to regulate the hazards of everyday life—simply because most Americans have jobs and face the same risks while they are on the hour—would greatly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority. ‘OSHA without clear authorization from Congress,’ the court said.

But Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan wrote in a joint dissent that they believe the policy is part of OSHA’s mission to protect employees from “serious hazards” that come from “new hazards” or a exposure to harmful agents.

“In our view, the court order gravely enforces applicable legal standards. And in doing so, it impedes the federal government’s ability to address the unprecedented threat that COVID-19 poses to the workers of our nation,” the authors wrote. three judges. “Acting outside of its jurisdiction and without a legal basis, the court overturns the judgments of government officials responsible for responding to occupational health emergencies.

The second rule being considered by the Supreme Court was issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in November and sets out vaccine requirements for staff at a wide range of facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid. The requirement does not have a daily or weekly testing option for unvaccinated workers, but does include medical and religious exemptions.

The Biden administration has estimated that the vaccine mandate affects more than 17 million employees at about 76,000 facilities.

Many states have challenged the vaccination mandate for healthcare workers in federal court, arguing that Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra exceeded his authority to implement the requirement.

In a case brought by 10 states, a federal district court in Missouri app blocked of the warrant in those locations, and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to overturn the lower court’s order. Then, in a separate case brought by 14 states, a federal district court in Louisiana blocked the rule from taking effect nationwide, but the 5th Circuit restricted the scope of the order to the 14 states that sued together. the Biden administration.

The Ministry of Justice asked the Supreme Court last month to let the administration’s vaccination mandate take effect in the 24 states where its implementation is currently halted.

The Supreme Court, with its 5-4 ruling, overturned lower court rulings that stopped enforcement of the mandate for health care workers in 24 states. The rule, the court said, “fits neatly” into the language of federal law allowing the secretary to impose conditions on Medicaid and Medicare funds.

“After all, ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is consistent with the fundamental principle of the medical profession: first, do no harm,” the Supreme Court said.

In a dissent joined by Alito, Gorsuch and Barrett, Thomas said the Biden administration had failed to make ‘strong evidence’ that Congress gave CMS the power to require healthcare workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The omnibus rule is undoubtedly important – it forces millions of healthcare workers to choose between losing their livelihoods and acquiescing to a vaccine they have rejected for months. Vaccination warrants are also fully within a state’s police power and, until now, have only rarely been a tool of the federal government,” Thomas wrote. “If Congress had wanted to grant CMS the power to impose a nationwide vaccination mandate, and thereby alter the balance between the state and the federal government, it would have said so clearly. It didn’t.”