The U.S. Supreme Court Halts Covid-19 Vaccine Rule for Businesses
The major push to boost vaccination rates stopped.
- By Shereen Hashem
- Jan 17, 2022
The Supreme Court officially stopped the Biden administration to increase vaccination rates, a requirement for employees at large businesses get vaccinated or get tested regularly and wear a mask on the job. At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a mask mandate for most health care workers in the U.S. The court’s orders came during a spike in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.
The conservative majority of the court concluded that the administration overstepped its authority by trying to impose on OSHA’s vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with a minimum of 100 employees. According to an article, more than 80 million people would have been affected and OSHA had estimated that the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations more over the past six months.
“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. On the other hand, the court’s three liberals argued that “it was the court that was overreaching by substituting its judgement for that of healthcare workers.”
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.
President Joe Biden said he was “disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law.”
President Biden called on businesses to institute their own vaccination requirements. When creating the OSHA rule, White House officials anticipated legal challenges and doubts that could withstand them. However, the administration still views the rule as a success at already driving millions of people to get vaccinated as well as encouraging private businesses to implement their own requirements that are “unaffected by legal change.” The OSHA regulation was initially blocked by a federal appeals court in New Orleans then allowed to take effect by a federal appellate panel in Cincinnati.
The vaccine mandate that the court will allow to be enforced nationwide scraped by on a 5-4 vote. The mandate covers virtually all health care workers in the country applying to providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding. “It affects 10.4 million workers at 76,000 health care facilities as well as home health care providers. The rule has medical and religious exemptions. Biden said that decision by the court “will save lives.”
All nine justices got their booster shots. The courthouse remains closed to the public, and lawyers and reporters are asked for negative test results before entering the courtroom for arguments, though vaccinations are not required. The justices heard arguments on the challenges last week. Their questions then hinted at the split verdict that they issued Thursday. A separate vaccine mandate for federal contractors, on hold after lower courts blocked it, has not been considered by the Supreme Court.
Shereen Hashem is the Associate Content Editor for Occupational Health & Safety magazine.