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Supreme Court Strikes Down Vaccine Mandate for Large Employers, Retains Requirement for Health Care Workers

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jan 13, 2022
iStock-922171778 SCOTUS United States US Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the White House's vaccine (or testing) mandate for employers with at least 100 workers, although it did allow a mandate to remain in place for the nation's 10 million health care worker,  the Wall Street Journal reported..

The unsigned opinion ruled that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), through which the administration implemented the requirement, did not have the authority to impose the mandate, saying that its power is only over general workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures. This was despite the fact that the administration argued that the public health measure was a workplace safety issue. But the court observed that COVID-19 is everywhere, not just the workplace, saying, "That kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases." A dissent from justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan said it was perverse to say that the mandate shouldn't go through simply because the danger also exists off the job. 

The high court did, however, say that the government retains an ability to act on workplaces especially susceptible to the contagion, such as those with “particularly crowded or cramped environments” or where researchers deal with infectious agents, according to the Journal. Further, in a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) does have broad authority to ensure that the health care providers who care for Medicare and Medicaid patients protect their patients’ health and safety.. The court said that such a requirement under these circumstances is a straightforward and predictable example of the health and safety regulations that Congress has authorized the department to impose. 

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett dissented from the DHS decision. Thomas said that the Biden administration hadn’t made a strong showing that the “hodgepodge of provisions” it relied upon gave it legal support for a national vaccine requirement. In an additional dissent, Alito said that even if the administration had the authority to impose the mandate, the mandate was problematic because the government did not seek public comment first. 

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