Supreme Court halts COVID vaccine rule for U.S. businesses | News, Sports, Jobs

FILE – This artist’s sketch depicts attorney Scott Keller standing to argue on behalf of more than two dozen business groups seeking an immediate Supreme Court order to stay a Biden administration order to impose a demand of vaccine or testing to large employers nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, at the Supreme Court in Washington, January 7, 2022. The Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees of large companies must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly tests and wear a mask at work. Thursday’s court order during a spike in coronavirus cases is a blow to the administration’s efforts to increase vaccination rates among Americans. (Dana Verkouteren via AP, File)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has halted a major push by the Biden administration to increase the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, a requirement that employees of major corporations get vaccinated or tested regularly and wear a mask at work.

At the same time, the court authorizes the administration to proceed with a vaccination mandate for most health care workers in the United States. The court orders came Thursday amid a spike in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.

The court’s conservative majority found that the administration exceeded its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine or test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people are believed to have been affected, and OSHA estimated the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months.

“OSHA has never imposed such a mandate. Neither does Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, it has refused to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has enacted here,” the curators wrote in an unsigned opinion.

In dissent, the three liberals on the court argued that it was the court that went too far in substituting its judgment for that of health experts. “Acting outside its jurisdiction and without legal basis, the Court overturns the judgments of government officials responsible for responding to occupational health emergencies”, Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.

President Joe Biden said he was “disappointed that the Supreme Court chose to block life-saving common-sense requirements for big business employees that were squarely based on both science and law.”

Biden called on companies to institute their own vaccination requirements, noting that a third of Fortune 100 companies have already done so.

When crafting the OSHA rule, White House officials always anticipated legal challenges — and privately some doubted it could withstand them. The administration nonetheless still views the rule as a success that has already prompted millions of people to get vaccinated and encouraged private companies to implement their own requirements that are unaffected by the legal challenge.

The OSHA settlement was initially blocked by a federal appeals court in New Orleans, then allowed to go into effect by a federal appeals panel in Cincinnati.

Both rules had been challenged by Republican-led states. Additionally, business groups have attacked OSHA’s emergency regulations as being too costly and likely to drive workers out of their jobs at a time when it’s already hard to find new employees.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail group, called the Supreme Court’s decision “a significant victory for employers.”

The vaccine mandate the court will allow to be enforced nationwide by a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the Liberals to form a majority. The mandate covers virtually all healthcare workers nationwide, applying to providers who receive federal funding from Medicare or Medicaid. It affects 10.4 million workers in 76,000 health facilities as well as home care providers. The rule has medical and religious exemptions.

In an unsigned opinion, the court wrote: “The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not given it. At the same time, these unprecedented circumstances do not justify limiting the exercise of the powers the agency has long been recognized for. He said the “this last principle governs” in the domain of health.

Judge Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent that the case was about whether the administration had the power “to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, into undergoing a medical procedure they don’t want and can’t undo.” He said the administration has not convincingly shown that Congress has given him that authority.

Judges Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett signed Thomas’ opinion. Alito wrote a separate dissent which the other three conservatives also joined.

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