Biden’s vaccine-or-test for businesses suffers major defeat

January 13, 2022
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The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses – a policy the conservative justices deemed an improper imposition on the lives and health of many Americans – while endorsing a separate federal vaccine requirement for healthcare facilities.

The court was divided in both cases, centering on federal regulations tailored to try to tame the pandemic at a time of escalating coronavirus infections in a nation that leads the world in COVID-19 deaths and cases. It ruled 6-3 with the six conservative justices in the majority and three liberal justices dissenting in blocking the rule for large businesses – a policy that applied to more than 80 million employees.

The vote was 5-4 to allow the healthcare worker rule, which requires vaccination for about 10.3 million workers at 76,000 healthcare facilities including hospitals and nursing homes that accept money from the Medicare and Medicaid government health insurance programs for elderly, disabled and low-income Americans. Two conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined the liberals in the majority in that case.

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Biden voiced disappointment with the conservative-majority court’s decision to halt his administration’s rule affecting businesses with at least 100 workers, saying it now is up to states and employers to decide whether to require workers “to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated.”

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

The court acted after hearing arguments last Friday in the legal fight over temporary mandates issued in November by two federal agencies aimed at increasing U.S. vaccination rates and making workplaces and healthcare settings safer. The cases tested presidential powers to address a swelling public health crisis that already has killed more than 845,000 Americans.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued the rule affecting large businesses requiring vaccines or weekly COVID-19 tests for employees. The court’s unsigned ruling said this rule was not an ordinary use of federal power.

The court’s majority downplayed the risk COVID-19 specifically poses in the workplace, comparing it instead to “day-to-day” crime and pollution hazards that individuals face everywhere.

“Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life -simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock – would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization,” the court said.

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

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