Supreme Court blocks Biden workplace vaccine rule, allows health care workers mandate

By: - January 13, 2022 2:37 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, against the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has specifically objected to the requirement at hospitals and facilities that receive federal aid. (Ariana Figueroa / States Newsroom)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday dealt a blow to the Biden administration’s fight against the pandemic, blocking a federal mandate that workers be vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19 — though the court allowed a separate rule requiring vaccinations for some health care workers.

The two rulings represented a split victory for Republican attorneys general from Louisiana, Ohio, Missouri and other states who went to court to battle the White House on its COVID-19 policies.

The emergency Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandate, which President Joe Biden announced in September, required employers with 100 or more workers to check employees’ COVID-19 vaccine status or test them regularly and require them to wear a mask on the job.

The OSHA standard took effect Monday, but the government allowed several weeks before workers were required to be fully vaccinated.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said in a statement he was “ecstatic” over the ruling to negate OSHA’s power but questioned the wisdom of justices who allowed the health care worker mandate to stand.

“As I am hopeful the OSHA decision brings relief to the millions of Americans whose lives were going to be impacted by Biden’s overreach, I am devastated for our healthcare heroes whom the government is now forcing to violate their consciences in order to keep their jobs,” Landry said in the statement.

Three liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, dissented in the OSHA opinion. The court majority sided with 27 Republican attorneys general, who claimed Congress had not given the executive branch the power to require vaccines.

“The question before us is not how to respond to the pandemic, but who holds the power to do so,” Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, wrote for the court in the workplace decision. “The answer is clear: Under the law as it stands today, that power rests with the States and Congress, not OSHA.”

But in the second decision affecting health care staff, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s liberals to allow the Department of Health and Human Services requirement that workers at health care centers that receive Medicare and Medicaid funds be vaccinated.

The rulings came less than a week after the justices heard arguments on the mandates – an unusually fast turnaround for the court.

In Louisiana, Ochsner Health has required its employees across the state to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the policy last week in rulings on two separate lawsuits.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter in the States Newsroom Washington bureau. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues as well as climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.

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