WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Thursday suspended the application of one of President Joe Biden’s signature efforts to fight COVID-19, ruling that his administration lacks the power to impose vaccine or vaccine requirements. test to employers who allegedly covered tens of millions of Americans.
The unsigned opinion, which came days after judges heard arguments in the emergency appeal, marked the second time that the country’s highest court has unraveled a pandemic policy of the Biden administration, concluding in again that federal officials had overstepped the power vested in them by Congress. The court blocked the moratorium on Biden’s evictions in August, ruling it was also an overrun.
The issue in the workplace case was whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had the power to impose the requirements under a 1970 statute.
“While Congress has unquestionably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational hazards, it has not given OSHA the power to regulate public health more broadly,” the court wrote. “Requiring the immunizations of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls into the latter category.”
The decision drew the dissent from the Court’s three liberal justices.
“In our view, the court order seriously misapplies applicable legal standards,” Associate Judge Stephen Breyer wrote in an opinion joined by Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. “And in doing so, it hinders the federal government’s ability to counter the unprecedented threat COVID-19 poses to workers in our country.” “
The court, in an unsigned second opinion, authorized an immunization warrant on people employed in healthcare facilities that receive federal funding through Medicare and Medicaid. This measure affects around 10 million workers.
“The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not given it,” the court wrote in the separate opinion. “At the same time, these unprecedented circumstances provide no reason to limit the exercise of the powers the agency has long been recognized for.”
The government, the court said, seemed to have that authority, at least when it comes to demanding changes in the workplace for the medical care it pays.
Four of the court’s conservative justices dissented.
“These cases do not relate to the effectiveness or importance of COVID-19 vaccines,” Associate Judge Clarence Thomas wrote. “It is only a question of whether (the administration) has the statutory power to force healthcare workers, by forcing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure that they do not want and cannot cancel.”
Thomas was joined by associate judges Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett.
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It was not immediately clear what options, if any, the Biden administration has to respond to the decision. In a statement, the president said he was “disappointed” and that it was now “up to states and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees.”
Ministry of Labor officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Biden announced policies in November covering employers with more than 100 workers, health sites and federal contractors. Large employers were required to set up vaccination programs or weekly testing or face penalties of nearly $ 14,000 per violation.
The decision in the big employer case has been applauded by conservative and business groups who have filed the lawsuits.
“Americans have already lost too much to this disease – we all want this pandemic to end – but it is essential that we do not lose our Constitution either,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, one of the Republican officials who challenged the employer rule.
Others said they worried about the implications far beyond the pandemic if it made it more difficult for federal agencies to respond to an emergency.
“The court is gutting the very ability of the federal government to protect Americans,” said Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University. “Judges are overturning decades of precedent for federal public health powers. “
The problem in the Large Employers case was whether Congress gave the Occupational Safety and Health Administration the power to require vaccines or tests in a 1970 law. The 1970 law at the center of the Employer’s case allows OSHA to establish an emergency rule when a “serious hazard” exists that could expose workers to “substances or agents deemed toxic or physically harmful or arising from new hazards.” Biden officials have argued that COVID-19 poses such a danger.
A majority of the court signaled in oral argument that it wondered whether Congress could have predicted that the law would be used to fight a pandemic. Several members of the court’s conservative bloc said the matter should be left to states unless Congress approves more specific authorization for such terms.
Liberal judges countered that agencies are better placed than courts to assess rapidly evolving public health emergencies. The legal feud comes as the omicron variant has skyrocketed cases and inundated hospitals.
The court noted that it applied a different standard to the medical worker’s case. Several of the court’s Tories, including Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, wondered aloud why those most directly affected by the warrant – doctors, nurses and other hospital staff – had not fought the Biden mandate.
“After all,” the court wrote in its medical facilities opinion, “ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is in keeping with the fundamental principle of the medical profession: first , do no harm ”.
Contribution: Michael Collins, Maureen Groppe