WASHINGTON (LifeSiteNews) — The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private businesses, while upholding another mandate for healthcare workers at facilities that receive federal funding.
In a major blow to the White House’s COVID plan, the high court ruled 6-3 against the business mandate, which was issued in November by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The court’s three Democrat-appointed justices dissented.
At the same time, the justices allowed the administration’s vaccination requirements for healthcare workers in a 5-4 decision, in which Chief Justices John Roberts (appointed by President George W. Bush) and Justice Brett Kavanaugh (appointed by President Donald Trump) joined the liberals.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on challenges to the mandates in a special session Friday.
The court’s Republican-appointed majority ruled that OSHA overstepped its statutory authority with the mandate for businesses and said that the agency cannot regulate COVID-19 as an “occupational hazard.”
“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,” read the majority decision.
“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 justices continued. “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.”
And mandating vaccination isn’t the same as regulating fire or sanitation, as the Biden administration argued, the court said. “A vaccination, after all, ‘cannot be undone at the end of the workday.’”
The OSHA mandate would have required workers at business with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated or submit weekly COVID tests and wear face masks at work by February in an unprecedented exercise of federal power. The rule would have impacted over 80 million workers — two-thirds of the U.S. workforce – amid widespread staffing shortages.
Parts of the policy came into effect this week, including requirements that companies keep a database of employees’ vaccine status and mandate masks for unvaccinated workers. OSHA has threatened fines of $13,653 per violation and more than $136,000 for repeated violations.
The vaccine mandate for healthcare workers affects an estimated 17 million employees at 76,000 facilities that participate in Medicare or Medicaid programs. That measure, announced by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) two months ago, requires workers to get their first jab by January 27 and to be “fully vaccinated” by the end of next month. It does not include a testing option.
The Biden administration has warned that healthcare providers risk losing their federal funding if they don’t enforce vaccination.
No vaccines halt transmission or infection of the virus, and recent studies have shown that “fully vaccinated” people have higher rates of infection than the unvaccinated. COVID-19 is a treatable illness for the vast majority of people who contract it, especially when combatted with certain early treatment protocols.
Justice Clarence Thomas blasted the CMS mandate in a dissent joined by Justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, and Neil Gorsuch, saying that Congress never authorized CMS to mandate vaccination.
“The Government proposes to find virtually unlimited vaccination power over millions of healthcare workers. Had Congress wanted to grant CMS power to impose a vaccine mandate, it would have clearly said so. It did not,” Thomas wrote. He added that the administration “has not made a strong showing that Congress gave CMS that broad authority.”
The two mandates were part of Joe Biden’s COVID-19 strategy announced in September that also includes COVID vaccination requirements for millions of federal workers and contractors and for the U.S. military. “This is not about freedom or personal choice,” Biden said at the time. “This is about protecting yourself and those around you.”
Biden’s mandate for federal contractors, which the Supreme Court has not considered, has been halted by lower courts.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had blocked the OSHA mandate in November, but the 6th Circuit reinstated it last month. Republican officials in more than two dozen states have challenged the rule in various federal courts, joined by businesses and religious organizations.
The Supreme Court sided Thursday with a coalition of business groups and 27 Republican states, led by Ohio, that sued the Biden administration over the OSHA policy.
Lower court orders had also blocked Biden’s vaccine requirements for healthcare workers in half of the states. The Supreme Court reversed those decisions, however, allowing the administration to enforce the mandate across the country.
The high court has repeatedly ruled in favor of compulsory vaccination at the state level in recent months. In December, a 6-3 majority of justices refused to suspend a mandate for healthcare workers in New York that precluded religious exemptions, after declining to strike down a similar measure in Maine the previous month.
But the cases decided Thursday hinged on whether the executive branch had congressional approval to issue broad-ranging, nationwide requirements.
“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress,” the court’s majority opinion stated. “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.”
Republican leaders and trade groups hailed the defeat of the OSHA business mandate. “Private employers are now free from an illegal, unconstitutional OSHA vax mandate,” reacted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. “Very happy to see the mandate blocked again after we got the same win in the 5th Circuit last month.”
At least some sanity has been returned by SCOTUS blocking OSHA’s vaccine mandate. Maybe Biden admin will reconsider their harmful and pointless healthcare mandate in light of increasing breakthrough cases and severe worker shortages. https://t.co/Gce7jiDC9o
— Senator Ron Johnson (@SenRonJohnson) January 13, 2022
“At least some sanity has been returned by SCOTUS blocking OSHA’s vaccine mandate. Maybe Biden admin will reconsider their harmful and pointless healthcare mandate in light of increasing breakthrough cases and severe worker shortages,” tweeted Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.
Job Creators Network (JCN) president and CEO Alfredo Ortiz said that the Supreme Court “stood up for small businesses by staying this illegal employer vaccine mandate.”
“The court has confirmed what JCN has long argued: OSHA does not have the authority to implement this sweeping regulation that will burden American businesses, including many small businesses, with new costs and exacerbate the historic labor shortage.”
The business mandate cases are National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor and Ohio v. Department of Labor, and the CMS mandate cases are Biden v. Missouri and Becerra v. Louisiana.