Supreme Court blocks Biden workplace vaccine rule, allows health care workers mandate

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Dr. David Obert receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination at University Medical Center of Southern Nevada on Dec. 16, 2020, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday dealt a blow to the Biden administration’s fight against the pandemic, blocking a federal mandate that workers be vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19 — though the court allowed a separate rule requiring vaccinations for some health care workers.

The two rulings represented a split victory for Republican attorneys general from Ohio, Missouri, Louisiana and other states who went to court to battle the White House on its COVID-19 policies.

The emergency Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandate, which President Joe Biden announced in September, required employers with 100 or more workers to check employees’ COVID-19 vaccine status or test them regularly and require them to wear a mask on the job.

The OSHA standard took effect Monday, but the government allowed several weeks before workers were required to be fully vaccinated. The Iowa Division of Labor announced Friday it would not enforce the OSHA standard.

Three liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, dissented in the OSHA opinion. The court majority sided with 27 Republican attorneys general, who claimed Congress had not given the executive branch the power to require vaccines.

“The question before us is not how to respond to the pandemic, but who holds the power to do so,” Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, wrote for the court in the workplace decision. “The answer is clear: Under the law as it stands today, that power rests with the States and Congress, not OSHA.”

Iowa Republicans celebrated the OSHA decision Thursday.

“The SCOTUS ruling on OSHA vaccine mandate is a major victory for Iowans, their personal freedoms and liberties,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement.

Sen. Chuck Grassley said the large employer mandate was the “last thing we need (with) a worker shortage.”

Rep. Cindy Axne, Iowa’s lone Democrat in D.C., did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decisions.

In the second decision affecting health care staff, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s liberals to allow the Department of Health and Human Services requirement that workers at health care centers that receive Medicare and Medicaid funds be vaccinated.

The rulings came less than a week after the justices heard arguments on the mandates – an unusually fast turnaround for the court.

Iowa Republicans criticized the court’s decision to uphold vaccine mandates for health care workers. Reynolds said she was “very disappointed” the mandate stands.

“Medical providers that have been on the frontlines of this pandemic saving lives deserve the freedom and ability to make their own informed health care decisions,” she said in a statement.

— Katie Akin of the Iowa Capital Dispatch contributed to this report.

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