Court blocks COVID-19 vaccine rule for big businesses

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has stopped a major push by the Biden administration to boost the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, a requirement that employees at large businesses get a vaccine or test regularly and wear a mask on the job.

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S. The court’s orders Thursday came during a spike in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.

The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected and OSHA had estimated that the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months.

“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” the conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.

In dissent, the court’s three liberals argued that it was the court that was overreaching by substituting its judgment for that of health experts. “Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.

President Joe Biden said he was “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 called on businesses to institute their own vaccination requirements, noting that a third of Fortune 100 companies already have done so.

Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, R-22, New Hartford, responded to the ruling:

“Today, the Supreme Court stepped in to protect American workers and businesses from President Joe Biden’s vaccine-or-testing mandate for companies with more than 100 employees. It was clear from the beginning that this requirement, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) outside the normal rule-making process and without authority from Congress, was an unconstitutional abuse of power by President Biden.

“Unfortunately, healthcare heroes were hung out to dry when the court ruled to allow the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to require healthcare workers at institutions receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds to be vaccinated. While I support voluntary vaccination efforts through increased access and education, the heavy hand of government must not be involved in the American people’s personal medical decisions when it comes to vaccination against COVID-19.”

“This is a big win, but the fight continues. In Congress, I support legislation to prohibit federal agencies or recipients of federal funds from discriminating based on COVID-19 vaccine status. Americans must have freedom and choice.”

When crafting the OSHA rule, White House officials always anticipated legal challenges — and privately some harbored doubts that it could withstand them. The administration nonetheless still views the rule as a success at already driving millions of people to get vaccinated and encouraging private businesses to implement their own requirements that are unaffected by the legal challenge.

The OSHA regulation had initially been blocked by a federal appeals court in New Orleans, then allowed to take effect by a federal appellate panel in Cincinnati.

Both rules had been challenged by Republican-led states. In addition, business groups attacked the OSHA emergency regulation as too expensive and likely to cause workers to leave their jobs at a time when finding new employees already is difficult.

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