The Supreme Court on Thursday prevented the Biden administration from implementing a vaccine-or-testing rule for major employers, thus killing a crucial component of the White House’s pandemic strategy as cases of the Omicron variety surge.
The court did, however, accept a more modest requirement that health care workers at facilities receiving federal funds be vaccinated.
The employer requirement case was decided by a 6 to 3 vote, with liberal justices dissenting.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh joined the liberal justices to establish a majority in the healthcare case, which was 5-4.
Workers would have been obliged to get vaccinated against the coronavirus or wear masks and be tested weekly under the employer mandate, though companies would not have been required to pay for the testing.
Workers with religious objections and those who do not come into intimate contact with other people at their jobs, such as those who work from home or only work outside, were exempt.
Parts of the rule requiring record-keeping and the use of masks were supposed to go into force on Monday.
The government had stated that the testing requirement would not be enforced until February 9.
The order was announced by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, in November, and it covered over 84 million workers.
It is estimated that 22 million individuals will be vaccinated, and 250,000 hospitalizations would be avoided, according to the government.
Members of the court’s conservative majority sounded skeptical that the administration had congressional power to enforce the rules during oral arguments in a special session on Friday.
Workers in hospitals and other healthcare facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs are subject to the second mandate.
According to the administration, it would touch more than 17 million workers and “save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives each month.”
In a series of cases, the Supreme Court has sustained state vaccine mandates despite constitutional concerns.
The new cases are distinct in that they focus on whether Congress has given the executive branch authority to impose the restrictions.
The mandate for large employers looked to be legal, according to a three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati.
For the majority, Judge Jane B. Stranch stated, “The record indicates that Covid-19 has continued to spread, mutate, kill, and obstruct the safe return of American workers to their occupations.”
“In order to protect workers, OSHA must be able to respond to hazards as they arise.”
Judge Joan L. Larsen, writing in dissent, stated that the administration “certainly lacks congressional power” to impose the vaccine-or-testing mandate.
She added, “The mandate is directly targeted at shielding the unvaccinated from their own choices.”
“Vaccines are freely available, and persons who have not been vaccinated can choose to protect themselves at any time.”