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The Supreme Court on Thursday stopped the Biden administration from implementing a vaccine-or-test mandate on large businesses, but it did allow a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the country.
In a 6-3 ruling, the court’s conservative majority knocked down the White House’s proposal that all private businesses of 100 employees or more needed to require vaccinations for COVID-19 or subject unvaccinated workers to regular testing. The rule had been challenged by Republican-controlled states and pro-business groups.
“OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] 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,” wrote the court’s six justices in an unsigned opinion.
The rule had been a cornerstone of President Biden’s efforts to rein in the coronavirus by applying pressure to people who remain unvaccinated. In a statement issued following the ruling, Biden called on individual states and businesses to institute their own safety mandates.
"I am 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 said, adding, "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."
In November, OSHA estimated that the policy would prevent 250,000 people from being hospitalized due to 22 million additional Americans receiving the vaccine.
In a 5-4 ruling also issued Thursday, the court’s three liberals were joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh in allowing a vaccine mandate on most health care workers to stand.
The ruling comes amid another COVID-19 surge in the United States, fueled by the hypertransmissive Omicron variant. According to tracking from the New York Times, there have been increases of 159 percent in cases, 82 percent in hospitalizations and 51 percent in deaths over the last 14 days. On Monday, the country set a new record for COVID hospitalizations as medical systems struggle with the rising caseloads and staffing shortages brought by workers testing positive and isolating themselves.
In a joint dissent against the court’s ruling striking down Biden’s business mandate, the court's liberals wrote, "When we are wise, we know not to displace the judgments of experts, acting within the sphere Congress marked out and under Presidential control, to deal with emergency conditions. Today, we are not wise. In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this Court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety it may not do so in all the workplaces needed."
The high court was supportive of most mandates last year. In December, it allowed a New York state vaccine mandate for all health care workers to stand after a legal challenge argued that it violated religious freedom. The court had previously declined to block New York City’s vaccine mandate for public school teachers as well as Indiana University’s similar mandate for students, in addition to mandates for health care workers in Maine and Massachusetts.