The U.S. Supreme Court is blocking Biden’s vaccine or test mandate for companies

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Joe Biden’s mandate for COVID-19 vaccination or testing for large corporations – a policy that conservative judges considered inappropriate for many Americans’ lives and health – while approving a separate federal vaccine requirements for healthcare facilities.

Biden expressed disappointment with the Conservative majority court’s decision to stop its administration rule requiring vaccines or weekly covid-19 tests for employees of companies with at least 100 employees. Biden said it is now up to states and employers to decide whether to require workers to “take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated.”

The law was fragmented in both cases, centered around pandemic-related federal regulations in an era of escalating coronavirus infections driven by the Omicron variant in a nation that leads the world with more than 845,000 deaths in COVID-19.

It ruled 6-3, with the six conservative judges in the majority and three liberal judges disagreeing on blocking the rule involving large companies – a policy that affected more than 80 million employees. The majority of the court downplayed the risk that covid-19 specifically poses in the workplace, and instead compared it to “daily” crime and pollution risks that individuals face everywhere.

The vote was 5-4 to allow the health care worker rule, which requires vaccination for about 10.3 million workers at 76,000 health care facilities including hospitals and nursing homes that receive money from Medicare and Medicaid’s health insurance programs for the elderly, disabled and low-income Americans. In that case, two Conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined the Liberals in the majority.

In a statement, Biden said the court’s decision allowing the staff’s mandate “will save lives” and that his administration will enforce it. Workers must be vaccinated by the end of February.

The court heard arguments on Friday in the legal battle for a temporary mandate issued in November by two federal authorities aimed at increasing the vaccination rate in the United States and making workplaces and health care environments safer. The cases tested the president’s powers to deal with a swelling public health crisis.

In an unsigned judgment, the court ruled that the big business rule, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), was not a common use of federal power.

“Instead, it is a significant intrusion into the lives – and health – of a large number of employees,” the court said.

“Allowing OSHA to regulate the risks of daily life – simply because most Americans have jobs and face the same risks when they are around the clock – would significantly extend OSHA’s oversight without clear congressional approval,” the court added.

Challengers led by the state of Ohio and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), representing employers, asked the judges to block OSHA’s rule after a lower court issued an injunction against it. Companies would start showing that they followed the rules from Monday.

In dissent, Judge Stephen Breyer wrote on behalf of the Liberal Judges that the decision “draws on the ability of the federal government to counter the unsurpassed threat that covid-19 poses to our nation’s workers.”

“Welcome relief”

“Today’s decision is a welcome relief to the small businesses of the United States, which are still trying to get their business back on track since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Karen Harned, executive director of the NFIB’s legal arm.

The Supreme Court blocked a decision on Dec. 17 by the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had allowed the mandate to take effect.

In the case of healthcare facilities, the Court’s differently composed majority concluded that the ordinance “fits well” within the power conferred on Congress by the government to impose conditions on Medicaid and Medicare funds, which include policies that protect health and safety.

“After all, ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is consistent with the basic principle of the medical profession: first, do no harm,” the court said.

Four conservative judges dissociated themselves from the decision on the care facility and concluded that Congress had not given the federal authority the power to require vaccinations for millions of care staff. In a dissent, Judge Samuel Alito doubted that the agency could “put more than 10 million healthcare professionals to the choice of their jobs or an irreversible medical treatment.”

The judges overturned orders from federal judges in Missouri and Louisiana that blocked the policy in 24 states, allowing the administration to enforce it almost nationwide. Enforcement was blocked in Texas by a lower court in separate disputes that were not pending before the Supreme Court.

Gerald Harmon, chairman of the American Medical Association’s medical team, said that although he is pleased that the court allowed the medical worker mandate, the broader workplace rule is also needed.

“Transmission in the workplace has been an important factor in the spread of covid-19,” Harmon added. “Now more than ever, workers in all environments across the country need common sense, evidence-based protection against covid-19 infection, hospitalization and death.”


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