The supreme court blocked the Biden administration on Thursday from enforcing their policy which required employees of large businesses to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing for COVID-19. However, similar requirements were allowed to remain for employees of medical facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid payments.
The mandate required that any businesses with 100 or more employees must ensure that their workers were fully vaccinated or be subject to weekly COVID tests. Employees who opted for testing were also required to wear masks indoors at work. If passed, the rule would have affected 80 million private sector employees.
The court, made up of a 6-3 conservative majority, ultimately concluded that the mandate exceeded the scope and authority of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
In an unsigned opinion, the majority stated, “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. 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.”
The Biden administration defended the policy and argued that the nation is still facing a pandemic “that is sickening and killing thousands of workers around the country”, and that any delay in implementing the vaccine-or-test requirement “will result in unnecessary illness, hospitalizations and death.”
In stark contrast, the court voted 5 to 4 to uphold mandatory vaccinations for employees of Medicare and Medicaid providers. The court stated that, unlike the proposed OSHA rule, mandating vaccines for healthcare workers was justified due to the spending clause of the Constitution. The spending clause allows the federal government to impose specific conditions if federal funding is provided to those programs.
"The rule thus fits neatly within the language of the statute. After all, ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is consistent with the fundamental principle of the medical profession: first, do no harm," the unsigned opinion stated. “It would be the 'very opposite of efficient and effective administration for a facility that is supposed to make people well to make them sick with COVID–19.”