Supreme Court Blocks Enforcement of COVID Vaccine and Testing Mandates for Large Businesses

President Joe Biden said he was "disappointed" in the decision, calling the requirement “a very modest burden” for employers

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on January 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court has blocked President Joe Biden’s COVID vaccine or testing mandate for large private businesses, but allowed a vaccine mandate to take effect for medical facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid payments.
The U.S. Supreme Court . Photo: Alex Wong/Getty

The U.S. Supreme Court this week blocked the Biden's administration's vaccine mandate for large employers, which would have required companies with more than 100 workers to ensure that employees are either vaccinated against COVID or wear a mask and be tested on a weekly basis.

The workplace mandate was announced in September and would have applied to an estimated 84 million employees. It was set to take effect this month.

OSHA had said that it would begin fining businesses that violated the federal vaccine mandate in January and fining those that did not comply with the testing requirement in February. The penalties for non-compliance estimated roughly $14,000 per violation, USA Today reports.

The mandate has in recent weeks been subject to a host of lawsuits brought by Republican states and private companies, which believe OSHA lacked the authority to enforce it.

The majority of the court agreed, halting the enforcement of the mandate and writing in its unsigned opinion: "Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly."

The court added: "Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category."

In a statement released by the White House, President Joe Biden said he was "disappointed" in the ruling.

"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.

He continued: "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."

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimated the order would have save over 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations in the next six months, NBC News reported.

"As a result of the Court's decision, it is now up to States and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees, and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated," Biden said.

Not all of the justices were in agreement about blocking the mandate, however.

In their dissent, the court's liberal judges including Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayer and Elena Kagan sided with the Biden administration and reiterated the importance of the new mandate.

"In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed," the liberal justices wrote. "As disease and death continue to mount, this court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible."

In a separate decision, the Supreme Court upheld a mandate requiring healthcare workers at federally-funded facilities to be fully vaccinated against the virus or undergo weekly testing, voting 5 to 4 to uphold the rule for Medicare and Medicaid providers.

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