Supreme Court blocks Biden OSHA vaccine mandate, allows rule for health care workers

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued mixed rulings in a pair of cases challenging Biden administration COVID-19 vaccine mandates, allowing the requirement for certain health care workers to go into effect while blocking enforcement of a mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees.

The latter, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule that took effect on Monday, said that businesses with at least 100 employees needed to require workers to get vaccinated, or get tested weekly and wear a mask.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Joe Biden’s pandemic-related vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses at a time of escalating COVID-19 infections while allowing his administration to enforce its separate vaccine requirement for healthcare facilities.

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 court was divided in both cases. The court ruled 6-3 with the six conservative justices in the majority and three liberal justices dissenting in blocking the broader workplace ruling. The vote was 5-4 to allow the healthcare worker rule, with two conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joining the liberals in the majority.

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The federal workplace safety agency issued a rule affecting businesses with at least 100 workers requiring vaccines or weekly COVID-19 tests – a policy applying to more than 80 million employees. Challengers led by the state of Ohio and a business group asked the justices to block the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule after a lower court lifted an injunction against it. Companies were supposed to start showing they were in compliance starting this past Monday.

The high court blocked a Dec. 17 decision by the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had allowed the mandate to go into effect.

The court’s order blocking enforcement while litigation continues in a lower court likely signals doom for the administration’s attempt to boost vaccination numbers by harnessing federal powers to protect workplace health and safety. During the oral argument, conservative justices expressed skepticism about the legality of that approach.

The other mandate required vaccination for an estimated 10.3 million workers at about 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.

The justices lifted orders by 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 litigation not at issue in the case before the Supreme Court.

Workers must be vaccinated by the end of February under the mandate.