The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s COVID-19 mandate for private businesses but allowed the mandate for healthcare workers, which says that facilities may lose Medicaid Medicare funding if their workers are not vaccinated.
The decisions came three days after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration implemented emergency measures.
Workers at companies with 100 or more employees were required to be vaccinated or submit a negative COVID test weekly in order to enter the workplace under this mandate. Unvaccinated employees were also required to wear masks at work.
“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 into the latter category,” the court wrote.
Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan wrote dissenting opinions, claiming that the majority had illegally usurped the power of Congress, the president, and OSHA.
“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. Without legal basis, the Court usurps a decision that rightfully belongs to others. It undercuts the capacity of the responsible federal officials, acting well within the scope of their authority, to protect American workers from grave danger,” they wrote.
In a separate, simultaneously released ruling on the administration’s vaccination rules for healthcare workers, a 5-4 majority sided with the Biden administration.
“We agree with the Government that the [Health and Human Services] Secretary’s rule falls within the authorities that Congress has conferred upon him,” said the majority, writing that the rule “fits neatly within the language of the statute.”
“After all, ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is consistent with the fundamental principle of the medical profession: first, do no harm,” the majority opinion read.
Four of the nine conservatives on the court, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett, dissented.
“I do not think that the Federal Government is likely to be able to show that Congress has authorized the unprecedented step of compelling over 10,000,000 healthcare workers to be vaccinated on pain of being fired,” Alito wrote in his dissent.
The mandates were issued by OSHA, which oversees workplace safety for the Labor Department, using emergency powers granted by Congress. If the Labor Secretary determines that a new workplace safety standard is necessary to protect workers from grave danger, OSHA can bypass the normal rulemaking process, which can take years.