WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has stopped a major push by the Biden administration to boost the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, a requirement that employees at large businesses get a vaccine or test regularly and wear a mask on the job.
At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S. The court’s orders Thursday came during a spike in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.
The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected and OSHA had estimated that the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months.
“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” the conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost helped lead the legal effort challenging the mandate, calling the decision "a win for all of America" and "a win for the Constitution and rule of law."
In dissent, the court’s three liberals argued that it was the court that was overreaching by substituting its judgment for that of health experts.
“Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.
While the case is not technically over, one professor of law at NKU's Chase College of Law, says the decision makes it hard for the federal vaccine mandate to survive.
"I think it's largely over because the facts that would support an emergency order are fast changing, but it seems like there's more of an emergency now than there's going to be three months from now," Ken Katkin said.
Ohio Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve Stivers said the ruling is "a temporary relief." The chamber estimated about half of Ohio's workforce would be impacted by the mandate.
"This is not a permanent decision, but I think people are excited they don't have to start complying with something that next week or the week after they might find out doesn't apply at all," Stivers said.
The case will go back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati where a three-judge panel had previously said the mandate appeared to be lawful.
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