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U.S. Supreme Court blocks vaccine mandate for large businesses

The Supreme Court voted 6-3 to block the rule.

Supreme Court of the United States building in Washington
Supreme Court of the United States

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Joe Biden’s mandate that employees of large businesses be vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested regularly.

Alabama joined other Republican states in October to challenge the rule.

“I said that we would win this battle in the courts, which is why I supported Alabama taking legal action against the Biden Administration’s failed attempt to mandate this vaccine,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement released Thursday. “Today, the Supreme Court gave us a major victory by stopping OSHA’s vaccine mandate for large employers from going into effect.”

The Supreme Court voted 6-3 to block the rule, which would have required all private employers with more than 100 employees to ensure their employees were vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing

“Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly. Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category,” the unsigned opinion states.

The court’s three liberal justices chided the decision in their dissent.

“When we are wise, we know not to displace the judgments of experts, acting within the sphere Congress marked out and under Presidential control, to deal with emergency conditions,” they wrote. “Today, we are not wise. In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this Court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed. As disease and death continue to mount, this Court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible.”

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Biden issued a statement Thursday expressing disappointment in the ruling.

“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law,” Biden said. “This emergency standard allowed employers to require vaccinations or to permit workers to refuse to be vaccinated, so long as they were tested once a week and wore a mask at work: a very modest burden.  

“As a result of the Court’s decision, it is now up to states and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees, and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated.”

Alabama Republicans didn’t stop at a lawsuit to fight the rule. Although religious and medical exemptions to the vaccines were allowed by the federal rule, Alabama went further to codify exemption forms for employees.

Few of the accepted reasons for exemptions required any form of validation; employees merely needed to check a box and sign the form. And the law is stacked toward the employee, with little room for challenge by employers.

With the OSHA rule now blocked, employers who continue to voluntarily require COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment remain mandated to offer the forms for employees.

The Supreme Court did vote, however, in a 5-4 decision to leave Biden’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in place. Conservative justices Brett Kavanaugh and John Roberts joined liberal justices in the ruling.

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“I completely disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to let the mandate on health care workers move forward,” Ivey said. “At a time when hospitals around the country are experiencing shortages and burnout in staff, why would they then run more off with an overreaching mandate by the President? I do not believe the White House is equipped to tell health care professionals they know better when it comes to medical advice.”

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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