U.S. Supreme Court blocks Biden vaccine-or-test policy for large businesses

  • A court with a conservative majority divided on the two cases
  • Blocking policy applied to companies with more than 100 employees
  • Vaccines required at facilities that take Medicare, Medicaid

WASHINGTON, Jan 13 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination or testing mandate for big business – a policy that conservative justices have seen as an improper imposition on the lives and health of many Americans – while endorsing a separate federal vaccine requirement for healthcare facilities.

Biden expressed disappointment with the conservative-majority court’s decision to suspend his administration’s rule requiring weekly COVID-19 vaccines or tests for employees of companies with at least 100 employees. Biden said it is now up to states and employers to decide whether to require workers “to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated.”

The court was split on both cases, focusing on pandemic-related federal regulations at a time of escalating coronavirus infections caused by the Omicron variant in a country that leads the world with more than 845,000 COVID deaths. -19.

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He ruled 6-3, with the six Tory justices in the majority and three Liberal justices dissenting, in blocking the rule involving big business – a policy that applied to more than 80 million employees. The majority of the court downplayed the risk that COVID-19 poses specifically in the workplace, comparing it instead to the “everyday” crime and pollution risks that individuals face everywhere.

The vote was 5-4 to authorize the healthcare worker rule, which requires the vaccination of around 10.3 million workers in 76,000 healthcare facilities, including accepting hospitals and nursing homes money from the Medicare and Medicaid government health insurance programs for the elderly, disabled, and low-income people. Americans. Two Tories, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined the Liberals in the majority in the case.

In a statement, Biden said the court’s decision authorizing the health care worker’s warrant “will save lives” and that his administration will enforce it. Workers must be vaccinated by the end of February.

The court heard arguments last Friday in the legal fight against temporary mandates issued in November by two federal agencies aimed at increasing vaccination rates in the United States and making workplaces and health care facilities safer. The cases have tested the presidential powers to deal with a growing public health crisis.

In an unsigned decision, the court said the rule affecting large businesses, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), was not an ordinary use of federal power.

“Rather, it is a significant encroachment on the lives – and health – of a large number of employees,” the court said.

“Allowing OSHA to regulate the hazards of everyday life – simply because most Americans have jobs and face the same risks every day – would dramatically expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear authorization from Congress. “, added the court.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

Challengers led by the State of Ohio and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), which represents employers, asked judges to block the OSHA rule after a lower court lifted an injunction to against him. Companies were supposed to start showing compliance from last Monday.

Dissenting, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote on behalf of the Liberal justices that the ruling “impedes the federal government’s ability to address the unprecedented threat that COVID-19 poses to the workers of our country.”

“WELCOME RELIEF”

“Today’s decision is a welcome relief for small businesses in America, who are still trying to get their businesses back on track since the pandemic began,” said Karen Harned, executive director of the NFIB’s legal branch.

The High Court blocked a Dec. 17 ruling from the Cincinnati-based 6th United States Court of Appeals that had allowed the warrant to go into effect.

In the healthcare facilities case, the court’s differently composed majority found that the settlement “fits neatly” into Congress’s power to impose conditions on the Medicaid and Medicare funds, which includes policies that protect health and safety.

“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 court said.

Four conservative justices disagreed with the healthcare facility’s decision, concluding that Congress had failed to give the federal agency the power to require millions of healthcare workers to be vaccinated. In a dissenting voice, Judge Samuel Alito doubted that the agency could “put more than 10 million healthcare workers on the choice of their jobs or irreversible medical treatment”.

The judges lifted orders from federal judges in Missouri and Louisiana blocking the policy in 24 states, allowing the administration to enforce it nearly nationwide. Enforcement was blocked in Texas by a lower court in separate, uncontested litigation in the Supreme Court.

Gerald Harmon, president of the American Medical Association’s Physicians Group, said while he’s pleased the court cleared the mandate for healthcare workers, the broader workplace rule is also needed.

“Workplace transmission has been a major factor in the spread of COVID-19,” Harmon added. “Now more than ever, workers in all walks of life across the country need common-sense, evidence-based protections against infection, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”

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Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Will Dunham

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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