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US Supreme Court Blocks COVID-19 Rules for US Businesses

US Supreme Court Blocks COVID-19 Rules for US Businesses
Source: Orrick

The Supreme Court has blocked the Biden administration’s biggest drive to increase the nation’s COVID-19 immunization rate, which requires large-business employees to obtain a vaccine or test on a regular basis and wear a mask on the job.

At the same time, the court has granted the administration’s request to proceed with a vaccination mandate for the majority of U.S. health-care employees. The court’s directives were issued on Thursday in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak caused by the omicron variety.

The court’s conservative majority determined that the government overstepped its power when it sought to enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate on enterprises with more than 100 employees in the United States. Over 80 million individuals would have been affected, with OSHA estimating that the regulation would save 6,500 deaths and 250,000 hospitalizations over the course of six months.

“OSHA has never enforced such a requirement before. Congress hasn’t done so either. Indeed, despite enacting considerable legislation to combat the COVID–19 epidemic, Congress has failed to impose any measures like to those proposed by OSHA here,” the conservatives noted in an unsigned opinion.

The court’s three liberals claimed in dissent that the court was overstepping its bounds by substituting its opinion for that of health professionals. In a combined dissent, Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor said, “Acting outside of its authority and without legal foundation, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government authorities charged with responding to workplace health concerns.”

“The Supreme Court has opted to prohibit common-sense life-saving standards for employees at major enterprises that were established solidly in both science and the law,” President Joe Biden stated.

Biden urged employers to implement their own immunization policies, pointing out that a third of Fortune 100 corporations have already done so.

Officials at the White House knew the OSHA regulation would face legal challenges, and some privately questioned whether it would be able to withstand them. Despite the court challenge, the administration still sees the law as a success since it has already prompted millions of individuals to be vaccinated and encouraged private firms to impose their own mandates.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans had first stopped the OSHA policy, but a federal appellate panel in Cincinnati permitted it to go into force.

Republican-led states have challenged both rulings. Furthermore, industry organizations criticized the OSHA emergency regulation as being excessively costly and likely to drive workers away at a time when hiring new staff is already tough.

The Supreme Court’s judgment was hailed by the National Retail Federation, the country’s largest retail trade organization, as “a huge victory for employers.”

The court narrowly approved a countrywide vaccination requirement on a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the liberals to create a majority. The obligation applies to providers who accept federal Medicare or Medicaid payments, and it affects nearly all health-care professionals in the country. It impacts 10.4 million people who work in 76,000 health-care facilities, as well as home health-care professionals. There are medical and religious exceptions to the norm.

The court’s judgment, according to Biden, “will save lives.”

“The obstacles posed by a worldwide epidemic do not empower a federal agency to wield jurisdiction that Congress has not conferred upon it,” the court noted in an unsigned ruling. At the same time, such unusual circumstances give no justification for restricting the agency’s use of long-recognized powers.” In the healthcare field, the “latter principle rules,” according to the report.

The issue was about whether the government had the jurisdiction “to force healthcare employees, by coercing their employers, to undertake a medical operation they do not desire and cannot reverse,” said Justice Clarence Thomas in dissent. He claimed the administration had failed to demonstrate that Congress had given them such authority.

Thomas’ opinion was signed by Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett. Alito filed a second dissent, which was signed by the other three conservatives.

In roughly half of the states, federal appeals courts in New Orleans and St. Louis had halted the requirement. The administration had already started enforcing it in other places.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 208 million Americans, or 62.7 percent of the population, are completely vaccinated, with more than a third of those receiving booster injections. Booster injections have been given to all nine justices.

The courthouse remains closed to the public, and attorneys and media are obliged to provide negative test results before entering the courtroom for arguments, while immunizations are not necessary.

Last week, the justices heard arguments on the challenges. Their questioning then alluded to the jury’s divided decision on Thursday.

The Supreme Court has not taken into account a second vaccination mandate for government contractors, which was put on hold after lower courts banned it.