Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court. (Credit: Geoff Livingston)

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden administration’s vaccination-and-testing rule for large businesses but upheld a separate federal COVID-19 vaccination mandate geared toward healthcare workers. 

The High Court ruled 6-3 against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s employer mandate, stopping it from going into effect any further while the case is reviewed in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled 5-4 to keep the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services vaccination mandate for healthcare workers, which affects 10.4 million workers at 76,000 providers, including nursing homes but not senior living communities.

In the majority opinion regarding the OSHA mandate, the court stated that 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.” The opinion stated that requiring vaccination of 84 million American workers “simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees” falls into the latter category.

Thursday’s rulings were not a surprise to court watchers given questions and comments made by the justices when the High Court heard oral arguments Jan. 7 related to OSHA’s mandate as well as the healthcare worker mandate from CMS.

Without an immediate decision, OSHA had begun implementing its rule on Monday, although it noted that it would not cite employers for not complying with the standard’s testing requirements before Feb. 9. 

Business groups led by the National Federation of Independent Business and a group of 27 states led by Ohio had argued that OSHA’s “economy-wide, one-size-fits-all” order was federal overreach. Attorneys argued that the rule would upend the economy, cost billions of dollars, lead to mass employee resignations and violate state sovereignty in developing vaccine policies.

The COVID-19 vaccination-and-testing standard requires larger employers to ensure that their employees are vaccinated or undergo regular testing and wear masks in the workplace. The rule would affect 1.8 million workplaces — about two-thirds of the private workforce in the country, according to the government.

The OSHA rule, announced Nov. 4, was temporarily halted later that month by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In December, the case was reassigned to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which lifted a hold on the rule. The Supreme Court announced Dec. 22 that it would hear the cases related to the OSHA and CMS mandates.