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The Supreme Court on Thursday issued mixed rulings in a pair of cases challenging the Biden administration COVID-19 vaccine mandates, allowing the requirement for certain health care workers to go into effect while blocking enforcement of a mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees.
In a 6-3 ruling issued on January 13, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) regarding private employer’s Covid-19 vaccine/testing mandate.
The Court was direct to point out that that OSHA empowers the Secretary of Labor to set workplace standards. The majority opinion described the mandate as a measure that attempts address a broader public health concern, in contrast to a workplace standard. The Court stated, “Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life—simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock—would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.”
What happens now?
The Supreme Court decision stops enforcement of the private employer vaccine/testing mandate, pending a decision on the merits by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The stay will remain in place until the Supreme Court denies a request for review or, if granted, until such time as the Court issues a judgment on the merits.
Meanwhile, the case will return to the Sixth Circuit, where the Court will hear and decide the case on the merits. The Court will also hear arguments over whether the ETS overrides state or local laws based on federal preemption. Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia have enacted measures that would restrict or impact vaccination requirements.
In a separate ruling regarding healthcare workers, the court ruled 5-4 to uphold the vaccine mandate rule administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Both Medicare and Medicaid are administered by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who has general statutory authority to promulgate regulations ‘as may be necessary to the efficient administration of the functions with which [he] is charged.’ One such function — perhaps the most basic, given the Department’s core mission — is to ensure that the health care providers who care for Medicare and Medicaid patients protect their patients’ health and safety,” the majority stated.
The health care mandate applies to facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funds, requiring them to maintain a fully vaccinated workforce, with no testing alternative. There are certain exemptions to accommodate workers who decline vaccination on medical or religious grounds. The rule is administered by Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
The rulings take effect immediately and will remain in place until legal challenges over their constitutionality are resolved through the Courts, and likely again at the US Supreme Court.