January 13, 2022 – U.S. Supreme Court Thursday blocked President Joe Biden’s mandate for a vaccine for large companies but said similar things could continue as long as the challenge to the rules takes place in lower courts.
There were 6-3 votes in favor of blocking the mandate of big business and 5-4 in favor of allowing a similar mandate to health professionals continue for now. Only health workers in institutions that receive federal money through Medicare or Medicaid are affected, but that includes large parts of the country’s health industry.
Biden’s proposed vaccine mandate for companies covered each company with more than 100 employees. It would require these companies to ensure that employees are vaccinated or tested weekly on COVID-19.
In its ruling, most courts called the plan a “blunt instrument”. The Directorate for Safety and Health at Work was supposed to enforce the rule, but the court ruled that the mandate was outside the agency’s jurisdiction.
“OSHA has never imposed such a mandate before. Not even Congress. Indeed, although Congress passed a significant law dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it refused to enact any measure similar to the one declared by OSHA here, ”the majority wrote.
The court said the mandate “is not ‘the daily exercise of federal authority'”. Instead, it is a significant encroachment on the lives – and health – of a large number of employees. ”
In a statement after the decisions, Biden said when he first called for mandates that 90 million Americans were unvaccinated. Today there are less than 35 million of them.
“If my administration had not set vaccination requirements, we would now have more deaths than COVID-19 and even more hospitalizations,” he said.
The mandate for the companies, he said, was a “very modest burden” because it did not require vaccination, but vaccination or testing.
But Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Companies’ Small Business Legal Center, welcomed the verdict.
“While small businesses are trying to recover after nearly two years of significant business interruptions, the last thing they need is a mandate that would cause more business challenges,” she said.
The NFIB is one of the original prosecutors who challenged the mandate.
Dr Anthony Kreis, a professor of constitutional law at Atlanta State University in Atlanta, said the ruling showed that “the court does not understand the incomparable situation created by the pandemic and unnecessarily complicates the work of the government.
“It’s hard to imagine a situation where swift action is needed from a public health emergency, which most courts don’t seem to appreciate.”
The American Medical Association seems to agree. Welcoming the decision on the health care mandate, association president Gerald Harmon, MD, said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed that the Court blocked the Emergency Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s temporary standard for vaccination against COVID-19 and testing for large companies from going forward.”
“Workplace transfer has been a major factor in the spread of COVID-19,” Harmon said. “Now more than ever, workers in all environments across the country need common sense, evidence-based protection against COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death – especially those who are immunocompromised or unable to be vaccinated due to health conditions.”
Although the Biden administration claimed that COVID-19 was a “hazard at work” and therefore under OSHA’s authority to regulate, the court said it disagreed.
“Although COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most. COVID-19 can spread and is spreading at home, in schools, during sporting events and everywhere people gather, ”the judges wrote.
That kind of universal risk, they said, “is no different from the everyday dangers everyone faces from crime, air pollution, or any number of infectious diseases.”
But in their disagreement, Judges Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan said COVID-19 is spreading “indoors, causing damage in almost all work environments. And in these environments, more than any other, individuals have little control, and therefore little capacity to mitigate risk. ”
This means, says the minority, that COVID-19 is a “threat in the work environment”.
OSHA, they said, has a mandate to “protect employees” from “serious hazards” from “new hazards” or exposure to harmful agents. COVID-19 certainly qualifies as such.
“The court order is seriously misapplying applicable legal standards,” the disagreement said. “And thus it disables the federal government’s ability to counter the incomparable threat that COVID-19 poses to our country’s workers.”
Supporting the mandate of the vaccine for health workers, the court said that the request of the Ministry of Health and Social Services is within the competence of the agency.
“After all, ensuring that service providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is in line with a fundamental principle of the medical profession: first, it does no harm,” the judges wrote.
Disagreeing with the majority, Judges Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Cohen Barrett said Congress never intended the department to have such power.
“It simply came to our notice then [HHS] the power to impose a national vaccine mandate, and consequently change the state-federal balance, I would make that clear. No, “the judges wrote.