On Thursday, the Supreme Court denied the Biden administration’s efforts to enforce its sweeping vaccine-or-test requirements for large private companies. However, it allowed a vaccine mandate to stay in effect for medical facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid payments.
The rulings falls three days after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency steps for businesses started to take effect.
The mandate required businesses with 100 or more require employees to get vaccinated or provide a negative Covid test weekly before entering the workplace. It also required unvaccinated workers to wear masks indoors at work.
“Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly,” the court wrote in an unsigned opinion.
“Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category,” the court wrote.
Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented, saying that the majority has usurped the power of Congress, the president, and OSHA without a legal basis.
“In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this Court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed,” they said in their dissent.
“As disease and death continue to mount, this Court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible. Without legal basis, the Court usurps a decision that rightfully belongs to others. It undercuts the capacity of the responsible federal officials, acting well within the scope of their authority, to protect American workers from grave danger,” they added.
President Joe Biden released a statement, saying that the Supreme Court chose to block requirements that are considered life-saving among workers. Biden has now called on states and businesses to step up to voluntarily institute vaccination requirements with hopes of protecting workers, customers, and the broader community.
“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,” Biden stated.
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh also criticized the court’s decision, calling it a major setback for the health and safety of workers and vows OSHA would use its existing authority to make sure businesses are protecting employees. The American Medical Association, which is one of the largest doctors’ groups in the country, said the ruling was “deeply disappointed.”
“In the face of a continually evolving COVID-19 pandemic that poses a serious danger to the health of our nation, the Supreme Court today halted one of the most effective tools in the fight against further transmission and death from this aggressive virus,” AMA President Gerald Harmon said.
In a separate ruling regarding the administration’s vaccination rules for healthcare workers, a 5-4 majority agreed with the Biden administration,
“We agree with the Government that the [Health and Human Services] Secretary’s rule falls within the authorities that Congress has conferred upon him,” said the majority, writing that the rule “fits neatly within the language of the statute.”
“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 majority opinion read.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett, who are four of the six conservatives on the nine-seat bench, dissented.
“I do not think that the Federal Government is likely to be able to show that Congress has authorized the unprecedented step of compelling over 10,000,000 healthcare workers to be vaccinated on pain of being fired,” Alito wrote.
Biden said the vaccine requirement for healthcare workers will save the lives of patients, doctors, and nurses. “We will enforce it,” the president stated in the mandate.
The vaccine-or-test rules were faced with many challenges, including a raft of lawsuits brought on by 27 states with Republican attorneys general or governors, private businesses, religious groups, and national industry associations, including the National Retail Federation, the American Trucking Associations, and the National Federation of Independent Business.
The NRF released a statement calling the Supreme Court ruling a “victory. And urged the Biden administration “to discard this unlawful mandate and instead work with employers, employees, and public health experts on practical ways to increase vaccination rates and mitigate the spread of the virus in 2022.”
The mandates were the most expansive use of power by the federal government to protect workers from Covid since the pandemic and would apply to around 100 million Americans.