Supreme Court ends COVID-19 vaccine rule for US companies - Market News
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Supreme Court ends COVID-19 vaccine rule for US companies

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has stopped major pressure from the Biden administration to increase the country’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, a requirement that employees at major companies receive a vaccine or undergo regular testing and wear a mask while on the job.

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

“OSHA has never imposed such a mandate before. Neither does Congress. Indeed, while Congress has passed important legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic, it has refused to enact measures similar to what OSHA has enacted here,” the conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.

President Joe Biden said he was “disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block life-saving common sense requirements for employees at large companies that are based on both science and law.”

Biden called on companies to set their own vaccination requirements, noting that a third of Fortune 100 companies have already done so.

In drafting the OSHA rule, White House officials always anticipated legal challenges — and privately, some harbored doubts about whether it could withstand them. Nevertheless, the government still views the rule as a success that has already prompted millions of people to get vaccinated and encourage private companies to implement their own requirements unaffected by the legal challenge.

The OSHA ordinance was initially blocked by a federal appeals court in New Orleans and then went into effect by a federal appeals panel in Cincinnati.

Both rules had been challenged by Republican-led states. In addition, business groups found the OSHA emergency ordinance too expensive and would likely cause employees to quit their jobs at a time when it is already difficult to find new employees.

The National Retail Federation, the country’s largest retail group, called the Supreme Court’s decision “a major victory for employers.”

The vaccine mandate that the court will allow to be enforced nationwide will be rejected by 5-4 votes, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Judge Brett Kavanaugh joining the Liberals to form a majority. The mandate covers virtually all health professionals in the country and applies to providers who receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding. It affects 10.4 million workers in 76,000 healthcare facilities and home care providers. The rule has medical and religious exceptions.

Biden said the court’s decision “will save lives.”

In an unsigned opinion, the court wrote: “The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise powers that Congress has not granted it. At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances offer no reason to limit the exercise of powers that the body has long recognized.” It said the “last principle rules” in health care.

Judge Clarence Thomas contradictedly wrote that the case was about whether the administration has the power “to compel health workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure that they do not want and cannot undo.” He said the administration had not convincingly demonstrated that Congress had given it that authority.

Judges Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett signed Thomas’s opinion. Alito wrote a separate dissent that the other three conservatives also joined.

Decisions by federal appeals courts in New Orleans and St. Louis had blocked the mandate in about half the states. The administration has already taken steps to enforce it elsewhere.

More than 208 million Americans, 62.7% of the population, have been fully vaccinated, and more than a third of those have received booster shots, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All nine judges received booster shots.

The courthouse will remain closed to the public, and lawyers and reporters will be asked for negative test results before being allowed to enter the courtroom for arguments, although vaccinations are not required.

The judges heard arguments about the challenges last week. Their questions then pointed to the split verdict they issued Thursday.

A separate vaccine mandate for federal contractors, put on hold after lower courts blocked it, has not been considered by the Supreme Court.


Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.


This story corrects that four judges noted dissent in the healthcare vaccine case, not just Alito and Thomas.

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