WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has stopped a major push by the Biden administration to boost the nation's COVID-19 vaccination rate, a requirement that employees at large businesses get a vaccine or test regularly and wear a mask on the job.

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S. The court’s orders Thursday came during a spike in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.

The court's conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped 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 would have been affected and OSHA had estimated that the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months.

“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” the conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.

In dissent, the court's three liberals argued that it was the court that was overreaching by substituting its judgment for that of health experts. “Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace 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 has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law.”

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

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

The OSHA regulation had initially been blocked by a federal appeals court in New Orleans, then allowed to take effect by a federal appellate panel in Cincinnati.

Both rules had been challenged by Republican-led states. In addition, business groups attacked the OSHA emergency regulation as too expensive and likely to cause workers to leave their jobs at a time when finding new employees already is difficult.

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

The vaccine mandate that the court will allow to be enforced nationwide scraped by on 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 health care workers in the country, applying to providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding. It affects 10.4 million workers at 76,000 health care facilities as well as home health care providers. The rule has medical and religious exemptions.

Biden said that decision by the court “will save lives.”

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 conferred upon it. At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have." It said the “latter principle governs” in the healthcare arena.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent that the case was about whether the administration has the authority “to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo.” He said the administration hadn’t shown convincingly that Congress gave it that authority.

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett signed onto Thomas' opinion. Alito wrote a separate dissent that the other three conservatives also joined.

Decisions by federal appeals courts in New Orleans and St. Louis had blocked the mandate in about half the states. The administration already was taking steps to enforce it elsewhere.

More than 208 million Americans, 62.7% of the population, are fully vaccinated, and more than a third of those have received booster shots, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All nine justices have gotten booster shots.

The courthouse remains closed to the public, and lawyers and reporters are asked for negative test results before being allowed inside the courtroom for arguments, though vaccinations are not required.

The justices heard arguments on the challenges last week. Their questions then hinted at the split verdict that they issued Thursday.

A separate vaccine mandate for federal contractors, on hold after lower courts blocked it, has not been considered by the Supreme Court.

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Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

(9) comments

Derek Gzaskow

So does this exempt our SFC sheriffs from getting vaccinated?

Michael Kiley

Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 2 (1866), gave the US President unlimited powers to act (subject to later judicial review by the principle of judicial supremacy) in a national emergency, when it approved President Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War. This unlimited power principle survives later case law, such as Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944).

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The Supreme Court decision (should be cited as the GOP donor whiner act) rested incorrectly on an interpretation of the Occupational Safety and Health act, and took a measure with narrow scope and narrowed it further, a big gift to big corporations. And small, over 100. That is, the Court did a normal GOP flip, they used a controversy for the opposite purpose than the administrative order stated, the Court ignored a broader authorization to attack OSHA. The President has an unlimited Constitutional implied power to act for public safety in an emergency endorsed by the Court in the cases above, such as the pandemic that is shooting toward one million dead Americans. If Dred Scott was a shot in the foot, this was sitting on the tracks in front of a train. In addition to the President's authority, Congress has given federal public health authorities absolute power to act in public health emergencies of national and state scope, and these are the proper powers the Court should have used, by stare decisis. This is the reason we should not put partisan lackies on our highest court for life, their reach extends to life and death for each American. The President and Attorney General with the Solicitor General need to do what the GOP always does when it loses in SCOTUS, file again in federal court for emergency review under the correct federal law, the idea that corporations and small businesses over 100 should be exempt because they don't like being told what to do is too lame to stand. Public health orders cover all workers and all workplaces, irrespective of OSHA.

Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 2 (1866), gave the US President unlimited powers to act (subject to later judicial review by the principle of judicial supremacy) in a national emergency, when it approved President Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War. This unlimited power principle survives later case law, such as Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944).

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mikekiley

The Supreme Court decision rested on an interpretation of the Occupational Safety and Health act, and took a measure with narrow scope and narrowed it further, a big gift to big corporations. And small, over 100. That is, the Court did a normal GOP flip, they used a controversy for the opposite purpose than the administrative order stated, the Court ignored a broader authorization to attack OSHA. The President has an absolute power to act for public safety in an emergency, such as the pandemic that is shooting toward one million dead Americans. If Dred Scott was a shot in the foot, this was sitting on the tracks in front of a train. In addition to the President's authority, Congress has given federal public health authorities absolute power to act in public health emergencies of national and state scope, and these are the proper powers the Court should have used. This is the reason we should not put partisan lackies on our highest court for life, their reach extends to life and death for each American. The President and Attorney General with the Solicitor General need to do what the GOP always does, file again in federal court for emergency certiorari review under the correct federal law, the idea that corporations and small businesses over 100 should be exempt from public health orders because they don't like being told what to do is too lame to stand. Public health orders apply to all workplaces and all US persons, and OSHA is not the correct authority.

Khal Spencer

I guess people can read whatever they want into the OSH Act of 1970 but the point of it was to protect workers from hazards OF the workplace (electrical, fire, exposure, energized equipment without safety features, trips and falls, etc, etc).

https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/oshact/completeoshact

To me, this was way too much of a stretch. While governors can exert emergency powers (as ours keeps doing), I don't think the OSH Act covers public health issues not related to hazards introduced by the workplace nor was this presidential order within his enumerated powers. Others are free to differ but it's the Court that has the final word. If you want to give your team vague and expansive powers, just remember, some day the other team will have them too.

Mike Johnson

And Biden's Chief of Staff provided the ammo to shut it down......https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10201037/WH-Chief-Staff-Ron-Klain-retweet-prompts-court-halt-Biden-vaccine-mandate.html

Barry Rabkin

Biden over-stepped using OSHA to mandate vaccines. I continue to believe, however, that employers have the constitutional right to mandate their employees get vaccinated. Employers have the legal responsibility to ensure a safe workplace - that includes having employees vaccinated.

Khal Spencer

I doubt there is anything in the Constitution about it but one would have to look at labor law. I suspect a company could require it under labor law, subject to union bargaining if it is a union shop.

Mike Johnson

Always a great day in America when the Constitution survives an attack by the left wing.

Kirk Holmes

[thumbup][thumbup] Yes sir Mike. While I've had all 3 vaccinations because I've chosen to do so, no one should be forced to do something against their will.

Mike Johnson

It was a great day, watching MSNBC and CNN, with the left wing press head's exploding, and the bonus of Sinema destroying the voter bills and Manchin still against the BBB Bills, a good day for moderates and the Constitution.

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