The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked the enactment of President Biden’s employee vaccine mandate, sparing restaurants and other businesses that employ at least 100 people from having to demand either proof of inoculation or weekly negative COVID-19 tests from each worker.
The court said it agreed with plaintiffs’ arguments that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) does not have the authority to adopt and enforce such a sweeping and unprecedented requirement.
It noted that it expects a lower court currently deliberating over the initiative’s legality to reach the same conclusion, a move that would effectively kill the mandate. It is highly unlikely that the lower court would arrive at an interpretation that differs from the read of the nation's highest court.
If the Supreme Court had agreed with the Biden administration’s defense argument, restaurant companies and other employers of at least 100 people would have been required to check vaccination or COVID test results starting Feb. 9.
The [Department of Labor] Secretary has ordered 84 million Americans to either obtain a COVID–19 vaccine or undergo weekly medical testing at their own expense,” the unsigned Supreme Court decision read. “This is no ‘everyday exercise of federal power.’”
While OSHA has the statutory authority and mandate to protect workers, the decision explained, that power does not extend to setting significant requirements for employees who just happen to work for larger companies.
The Biden administration flatly disagreed with the court in a statement issued shortly after the decision was handed down.
“I am disappointed in the court’s decision, which is a major setback to the health and safety of workers across the country," said Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. "“OSHA promulgated the ETS [or Emergency Temporary Standard, as the mandate is technically known] under clear authority established by Congress to protect workers facing grave danger in the workplace, and COVID is without doubt such a danger."
The Supreme Court took on the case on an emergency basis last Friday because of the looming Feb. 9 implementation date. Although the questions posed by the court's six conservative justices in emergency hearing led many veteran legal analysts to predict the requirement would be scuttled, others read the lack of action before Monday, the start date of the requirement, as an indication that the court might not block adoption.
This afternoon's decision removes the considerable uncertainty that has hovered over the issue since Biden proposed the sweeping mandate on Sept. 9. Almost immediately, more than a dozen states filed lawsuits challenging the measure's legality and constitutionality. They were joined by a variety of trade associations and at least one restaurant operator.
UPDATE: This story has been updated with feedback from the Biden administration.
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