Jan 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers

Picture of the Supreme Court building
Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers, but it will allow a similar mandate to continue for workers at federally funded health care facilities.

Driving the news: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency measure went into effect on Monday. It said that employers with more than 100 workers must require their workers to either get vaccinated or tested every week.

  • The decision comes less than a week after the court listened to oral arguments on the administration's sweeping vaccination rules, which would have affected more than 80 million people.
  • During the oral arguments, the court's conservative majority seemed generally uncomfortable with the scope of OSHA’s requirement."

Catch up quick: Several Republican states last year filed lawsuits against the Biden administration over its vaccine-or-test mandate, with some calling it "unconstitutional, unlawful and unwise."

Details: "Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly," the court said in its 6-3 opinion on the vaccine-or-test mandate, which liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

  • "Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category."

The other side: "When we are wise, we know enough to defer on matters like this one. When we are wise, we know not to displace the judgments of experts, acting within the sphere Congress marked out and under Presidential control, to deal with emergency conditions. Today, we are not wise," Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan wrote in their dissent.

  • "In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this Court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed."

In its second ruling, the court said that the Biden administration has the authority, given by Congress, to issue a vaccine mandate for health care workers at facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funds.

  • "The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not conferred upon it. At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have," the court said.
  • In this ruling, Justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh joined the liberal justices to form a majority.

What they're saying: "Today’s decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the requirement for health care workers will save lives:  the lives of patients who seek care in medical facilities, as well as the lives of doctors, nurses, and others who work there," President Biden said in a statement.

  • "At the same time, I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law."
  • Biden said he will still use his voice as president "to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy."

Don't forget: Individual employers are still legally allowed to mandate vaccines for their employees.

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.

Go deeper