Author: Megan Redshaw Published: 1/13/22 CHD
The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected the Biden administration’s COVID vaccine mandate for large businesses, but ruled separately that a mandate for healthcare workers can move forward.
The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected the Biden administration’s mandate requiring employees of large businesses to be vaccinated against COVID or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask indoors while working.
The court’s conservative majority said the administration overstepped its authority by imposing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees.
At the same time, the court allowed to move forward a separate rule mandating COVID vaccines for workers in healthcare facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid.
The Supreme Court on Jan. 7 heard oral arguments pertaining to both of the Biden administration’s COVID vaccine mandates. The focus of the hearing was whether to stay or to grant temporary injunctions requested by plaintiffs in a number of lawsuits challenging the emergency mandates for millions of Americans.
At the time, the rule issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), was stayed for 24 states that initiated lawsuits, but the OSHA stay was lifted by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court’s decision today reversed the lower court rulings, imposing a stay on the OSHA mandate and allowing the CMS rule to proceed.
Today’s rulings came three days after the OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard went into effect, targeting more than 84 million workers and two-thirds of the nation’s private-sector workforce.
The conservative justices wrote in an unsigned opinion:
“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here.”
The conservative majority also expressed concerns over the implications of allowing OSHA to implement a widespread mandate without congressional authorization.
“Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life — simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock — would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization,” the opinion stated.
A majority of the Supreme Court’s justices concluded the applicants challenging OSHA’s mandate were likely to succeed in the merits of their claim and the secretary of labor lacked authority to impose the mandate, resulting in a stay while the case works its way through the 6th Circuit Court.
“Administrative agencies are creatures of statute,” the justices wrote. “They accordingly possess only the authority that Congress has provided.”
In a joint dissent of the OSHA ruling, the court’s three liberal justices argued the court was overreaching by substituting its judgment for that of health experts.
“Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.
The justices contended OSHA’s mandate is comparable to a fire or sanitation regulation imposed by the agency, while the majority said a vaccine mandate is strikingly unlike the workplace regulations that OSHA has typically imposed as a vaccination “cannot be undone at the end of the workday.”