The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked the Biden administration’s mandate that would require private companies from enacting vaccine-or-test requirements on its workforce, but it allowed a similar mandate by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to go into effect at medical facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid payments.
What Happened: The court’s conservative majority carried the 6-3 ruling against the emergency measure imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in November that would force businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure every worker was vaccinated or would be tested weekly against COVID-19. The mandate would have also required the unvaccinated workers to wear face masks on company premises, regardless of their health status.
“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 court wrote in an unsigned opinion. “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.”
The OSHA mandate would have applied to more than 84 million workers. The court heard arguments in this case last Friday in a session that generated controversy when Justice Sonia Sotomayor significantly exaggerated the level of pediatric COVID-19 cases.
What Else Happened: However, the court sided with the HHS on its mandate, ruling that it “falls within the authorities that Congress has conferred upon him.”
The HHS ruling was a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh joining the liberal justices in the majority.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito noted their dissents in an unsigned opinion arguing that 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.”
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