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The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden Administration’s new rule that required employees at large companies to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or test negative for the disease.
The court also let stand a mandate affecting workers at medical facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid payments.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) employee mandate rule went into effect three days ago. It required that employees of private businesses with at least 100 employees get vaccinated or submit a weekly negative test, and that unvaccinated workers wear masks indoors.
COVID-19 not an occupational hazard
In their ruling the justices explained that the risk of contracting COVID-19 should not fall under OSHA’s jurisdiction:
“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.
“Although COVID– 19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most. COVID–19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather. That kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable dis-eases.
“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,” the justices wrote.
“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,” read the ruling.
The court was divided 6-3 on the broader workplace mandate, with Justices Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissenting.
“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,” they said in their dissent.
“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.
President Biden promises to push for vaccines
In response to the ruling, President Joe Biden promised to use the Bully Pulpit to urge employers to push for employees to get vaccinated.
“The Court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to require this measure, but that does not stop me from using my voice as President to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy,” Biden said.
Conservative justices dissent on health care worker mandate
In the ruling concerning health care workers, 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.