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 Ohio, Missouri, Louisiana 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.
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.