WASHINGTON, Jan 13 (CSU) – The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a separate federal vaccine requirement for healthcare facilities on Thursday but blocked President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses, which conservative justices deemed an unconstitutional imposition on many Americans’ lives and health.
Biden expressed unhappiness with the conservative-majority court’s decision to block his administration’s rule requiring immunizations or weekly COVID-19 tests for employees at companies with more than 100 workers. States and companies must now determine whether to mandate workers to “take the simple and effective step of being vaccinated,” according to Biden.
In both cases, the court was split on pandemic-related federal legislation at a time when coronavirus infections fueled by the Omicron variety are on the rise in a country that leads the globe with over 845,000 COVID-19 deaths.
It blocked the rule concerning huge corporations – a policy that affected more than 80 million employees – by a 6-3 vote, with six conservative justices in the majority and three liberal justices dissenting. The majority of the court dismissed the threat COVID-19 poses in the workplace, equating it to “day-to-day” crime and pollution risks that people encounter elsewhere.
The requirement for vaccination for approximately 10.3 million workers at 76,000 healthcare facilities, including hospitals and nursing homes, that accept money from the government’s Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs for the elderly, disabled, and low-income Americans was approved by a 5-4 decision. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, both conservatives, joined the liberals in the majority in that decision.
Biden stated in a statement that the court’s decision to enable the healthcare worker mandate “will save lives” and that his administration will implement it. By the end of February, all workers must be vaccinated.
Last Friday, the court heard arguments in the legal battle over two federal agencies’ November interim mandates aimed at improving vaccination rates in the United States and making workplaces and healthcare settings safer. The incidents put the president’s ability to deal with a growing public health concern to the test.
The court noted in an unsigned opinion that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) rule affecting large corporations was not a usual use of government jurisdiction.
The court stated, “It is instead a significant infringement on the life – and health – of a large number of employees.”
“Allowing OSHA to regulate everyday dangers – merely because most Americans have jobs and are exposed to the same risks when on the clock – would considerably expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization,” the court noted.
After an injunction against OSHA’s rule was lifted by a lower court, opponents backed by Ohio and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which represents employers, petitioned the Supreme Court to delay the rule. On Monday, businesses were required to begin demonstrating compliance.
In dissent on behalf of the liberal justices, Justice Stephen Breyer claimed that the decision “stymies the federal government’s power to withstand the extraordinary harm that COVID-19 presents to our nation’s workforce.”
‘WELCOME RELIEF’ is a phrase that means “welcome relief.”
“Today’s ruling is a good relief for America’s small companies, who have been struggling to get back on track since the outbreak began,” Karen Harned, executive director of the NFIB’s legal arm, said.
The high court overturned a judgment by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Dec 17 that had permitted the mandate to take effect.
The majority of the court in the healthcare facilities case decided that the regulation “fits neatly” within the jurisdiction Congress gave the government to put conditions on Medicaid and Medicare funds, which includes measures that safeguard health and safety.
“After all, ensuring that providers take precautions to avoid transmitting a hazardous virus to their patients is consistent with the medical profession’s fundamental principle: first, do no harm,” the court stated.
In the healthcare facility case, four conservative justices dissented, deciding that Congress had not given the federal agency the authority to enforce vaccines for millions of healthcare employees. Justice Samuel Alito, writing in dissent, questioned whether the government may “force more than 10 million healthcare employees to choose between their jobs and irreparable medical treatment.”
The Supreme Court overturned decisions from federal judges in Missouri and Louisiana that had barred the administration from enforcing the policy in 24 states, allowing it to be implemented virtually statewide. A lower court in Texas blocked enforcement in a different case that was not before the Supreme Court.
Although he is delighted that the court authorized the healthcare worker obligation, Gerald Harmon, president of the American Medical Association physicians group, believes that a broader workplace rule is also required.
“Workplace transmission has been a major component in COVID-19‘s proliferation,” Harmon continued. “Workers in all settings across the country require simple, evidence-based measures against COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death now more than ever.”
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