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Supreme Court blocks large-employer vaccine mandate

(Source: U.S. Supreme Court)

(Source: U.S. Supreme Court)
(Source: U.S. Supreme Court)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden administration's mandate for large employers to have their workers either vaccinated against Covid-19 or be regularly tested.

Separately, the court let stand a vaccine mandate for health care organizations that receive federal funding.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh were the two swing votes accounting for the differing outcomes, the Washington Post reported. The courts liberal wing, Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, supported the large-employer mandate, while conservative Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas opposed the health system mandate.

The employer mandate was to apply to organizations with 100 employees or more, using the regulatory authority of the Occupational Health & Safety Administration. It would have affected about 80 million people, the Associated Press reported.

The Supreme Court majority, however, said Covid-19 is not an occupational hazard per se.

"Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life ... would significantly expand OSHA's regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization," they wrote.

The court's ruling is a stay: It prevents the mandate from taking effect while litigation challenging it is argued in lower courts.

The National Federation of Independent Business, one of the plaintiffs, said it applauds the decision, as did conservatives.

In their dissent, the three liberal justices wrote that the majority acted "outside of its competence and without legal basis" and that the existence of a general hazard outside workplaces does not diminish OSHA's authority to regulate that hazard within them.

Conversely, a 5-4 court majority said the mandate for health care workers was within the legal authority of the U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services. It covers about 10 million health industry workers.

The four conservative justices, in a dissent authored by Thomas, disagreed: "Had Congress wanted to grant CMS [the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] power to impose a vaccine mandate across all facility types, it would have done what it has done elsewhere—specifically authorize one."

In a statement, President Joe Biden called on businesses to impose vaccine mandates despite the ruling "to protect their workers, customers and communities."