Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Supreme Court strikes down COVID-19 vaccination rule for US companies


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has barred the Biden administration from requiring employees of large businesses to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested weekly and wear a mask at work.

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to begin vaccinating most healthcare workers in the US.

Thursday’s court rulings during a surge in coronavirus cases were mixed for the administration’s efforts to boost vaccination rates among Americans.

A conservative majority in the court concluded that the administration had overstepped its authority by trying to impose Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules about vaccines or tests on US businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected.

“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Congress too. Indeed, while Congress has passed important legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic, it has refused to take any action like the one OSHA has unveiled here,” the Conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.

Disagreeing, the three liberals of the court argued that it was the court that overdid it by substituting its judgment for the opinion of health experts. “Acting outside of its jurisdiction and without legal basis, the Court overturns the decisions of public officials who are required to respond to health emergencies in the workplace,” Judges Steven Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.

In drafting the OSHA rule, White House officials always foresaw legal challenges, and privately some doubted that it would be able to withstand them. The administration, though, still sees the rule as a success, as it has already encouraged millions of people to get vaccinated and private businesses to implement their own demands, unaffected by the legal challenge.

Both rules have been challenged by Republican-led states. In addition, business groups have criticized OSHA’s state of emergency as too costly and could result in workers leaving their jobs at a time when finding new hires is already difficult.

The vaccination mandate, which the court will allow to go into effect nationwide, covers virtually all healthcare workers in the country. This applies to health care providers receiving federal Medicare or Medicaid funding, which could affect 76,000 healthcare facilities, as well as home health care providers. The rule has medical and religious exceptions.

Decisions by federal appeals courts in New Orleans and St. Louis blocked the mandate in about half the states. The Administration has already taken steps to enforce it elsewhere.

In the health care case, only Judges Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito noted their dissent. “The challenges of a global pandemic prevent a federal agency from exercising power that Congress has not given it. At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances do not justify limiting the powers that the agency has long been recognized to have,” the judges wrote in an unsigned opinion, noting that “the latter principle prevails” in health care cases.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 208 million Americans, 62.7% of the population, are fully vaccinated, and more than a third of them have received boosters. All nine judges received additional vaccinations.

Last week, the judges heard arguments about the challenges. Their questions then hinted at the split verdict they delivered on Thursday.


Associated Press contributor Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

Nation World News Desk
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