Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for US businesses

Judge Halts Vaccine Mandate For Health Workers Nationwide
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WASHINGTON (AP)  — The Supreme Court has stopped the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees at large businesses be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask on the job.

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S.

The court’s orders Thursday during a spike in coronavirus cases was a mixed bag for the administration’s efforts to boost the vaccination rate among Americans.

The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected.

“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 conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.

In dissent, the court’s three liberals argued that it was the court that 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.

When crafting the OSHA rule, White House officials always anticipated legal challenges — and privately some harbored doubts that it could withstand them. The administration nonetheless still views the rule as a success at already driving millions of people to get vaccinated and for private businesses to implement their own requirements that are unaffected by the legal challenge.

Both rules had been challenged by Republican-led states. In addition, business groups attacked the OSHA emergency regulation as too expensive and likely to cause workers to leave their jobs at a time when finding new employees already is difficult.

The vaccine mandate that the court will allow to be enforced nationwide covers virtually all health care workers in the country. It applies to health care providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding, potentially affecting 76,000 health care facilities as well as home health care providers. The rule has medical and religious exemptions.

Decisions by federal appeals courts in New Orleans and St. Louis had blocked the mandate in about half the states. The administration already was taking steps to enforce it elsewhere.

In the healthcare case, only justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito noted their dissents. “The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not conferred upon it. At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have,” the justices wrote in an unsigned opinion, saying the “latter principle governs” in the healthcare cases.

More than 208 million Americans, 62.7% of the population, are fully vaccinated, and more than a third of those have received booster shots, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All nine justices have gotten booster shots.

The justices heard arguments on the challenges last week. Their questions then hinted at the split verdict that they issued Thursday.

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Missouri AG Responds

Earlier this afternoon, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Missouri and other plaintiffs in halting the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s vaccine mandate on private employers. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt released the following statement: “Earlier this afternoon, the United States Supreme Court halted the OSHA private employer vaccine mandate, a massive win for millions of workers and businesses across the country, including Doolittle Manufacturing here in Missouri, who would’ve had to shutter their doors if this mandate was not halted. Missouri was the first state to file suit against the OSHA private employer mandate, and I’m proud to have delivered this critical decision for Missourians and Americans, and to hand the Biden Administration its biggest loss to date. While we’re disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling on our lawsuit against the health care worker vaccine mandate, that fight is far from over, and the case is still ongoing. We’re committed to ensuring that rural hospitals and nursing homes continue to stay open and provide critical care to Missourians, and we will not give up this fight.”

Oklahoma AG Responds

“The State of Oklahoma is pleased the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the states challenging the OSHA vaccine mandate on private businesses. Now, individuals who work in the private sector can make healthcare decisions for themselves and their families – as it should be. This is a major win for job creators and their employees.

“However, we are disappointed with the Court’s decision to allow the enforcement of the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. The State of Oklahoma is already suffering from healthcare staffing shortages and the CMS vaccine mandate will only make matters worse, especially in rural Oklahoma. Not only does the CMS mandate threaten the healthcare interests of countless Americans, but it also puts state funding at risk. My office will continue to fight for the rights of Oklahomans and defend the rule of law against the Biden Administration’s heavy-handed tactics,” said Attorney General John O’Connor.

Kansas AG Responds

The U.S. Supreme Court today blocked the Biden administration’s mandate that most private employers with 100 or more employees require their workers to be vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19 but also let a separate federal mandate that healthcare workers be vaccinated go into effect, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said.

“Today’s rulings are a mixed bag for Kansas,” said Schmidt, who had challenged both mandates together with separate federal mandates covering federal contractors and Head Start childcare programs. “Blocking the illegal OSHA mandate gives welcome relief to thousands of employers and employees throughout our state who now will not lose their jobs because of their healthcare decisions, but the disappointing decision to uphold for now the mandate that healthcare workers be vaccinated is likely to aggravate the shortage of nurses and other healthcare professionals that already is causing serious disruption to the delivery of care throughout our state.”