Supreme Blocks Biden’s Vaccine Mandate, Upholds Shots for Healthcare Workers

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In a win for those opposing the far-reaching COVID-19 vaccine mandate pushed by the Biden administration, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that most workplaces can’t require workers to get shots or be tested weekly. But it is allowing the vaccine mandate to proceed for nearly all healthcare workers. 

The justices, which are mostly conservative, decided that the administration does not have the authority to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) rule that all workers either by vaccinated or submit to regular testing in order to continue their employment. The rule was meant to apply to businesses with at least 100 employees, which would have affected over 80 million people. 

“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.

The Supreme Court’s three liberal justices wrote a dissent to argue it was the court that was overreaching its authority. They said the court substituted 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 their joint dissent.

The court is allowing the vaccine mandate to be enforced nationwide to all healthcare providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding. This could affect up to 76,000 facilities in addition to home healthcare providers. Medical and religious exemptions to the mandate are allowed. 

White House officials expected legal challenges to the OSHA rule from the beginning. But overall, the administration seems to view their vaccine mandate a success because it caused millions of people to get vaccinated before being struck down by the Supreme Court. Private businesses are allowed to institute their own vaccine requirements for employees if they choose. 

Early on in the attempts to require nationwide vaccine mandates by all employers, the OSHA rule was challenged by Republican-led states. Business groups also attacked it as being bad for business owners, since enforcing it was expensive and likely to cause workers to quit their jobs during a time when finding and hiring new employees was already challenging enough. 

Schools are the next frontline in the battle for vaccines for all, but hopefully this decision by the highest court in the land will set a precedent for how legal challenges in that field are handled. 

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