The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Joe Biden administration's rule requiring employees at large U.S. businesses to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or be subject to frequent testing, but it allowed the administration's vaccine mandate for health care workers receiving funds from the federal government to go ahead.
The high court ruled 6-3 to block the vaccine-or-test mandate for private employers, with its conservative majority basing their ruling on the argument that the White House has overstepped its authority by imposing the rule devised by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on businesses with 100 or more employees, since Congress has not given OSHA the power to enact such a rule. The mandate would have affected more than 80 million people.
"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," read the unsigned majority opinion.
"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. 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," it said.
The court's three liberal justices dissented from the ruling. "When we are wise, we know not to displace the judgments of experts, acting within the sphere Congress marked out and under Presidential control, to deal with emergency conditions," they wrote in the dissenting opinion.
"Today, we are not wise. 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. As disease and death continue to mount, this Court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible."
Separately, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to let the administration's vaccine mandate for most health care workers to take effect. That mandate will apply to over 17 million health care workers across around 76,000 facilities that participate in the federally-funded Medicare and Medicaid programs.