Legal

Supreme Court Rejects Workplace Vaccine Mandate

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a major blow to the Biden administration’s anti-COVID 19 efforts on Thursday, striking down its vaccine-or-test ma...
Matthew HellerJanuary 18, 2022
Supreme Court Rejects Workplace Vaccine Mandate
Photo: Walter Bibikow

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a major blow to the Biden administration’s anti-COVID 19 efforts on Thursday, striking down its vaccine-or-test mandate for large businesses.

The court’s six conservative justices said the mandate exceeded the authority of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue emergency regulations to protect workers from “grave danger” that is due to “new hazards” or exposure to harmful agents.

OSHA’s emergency powers apply only to occupational hazards, not to a “universal risk” that is “no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases,” the court said in upholding a challenge to the mandate from Republican attorneys general and some business groups.

But in a scathing dissent, the liberal bloc of Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer accused the majority of substituting “judicial diktat for reasoned policymaking” and “causing grave danger to the nation’s workforce.”

“OSHA’s responsibility to mitigate the harms of COVID–19 in the typical workplace do not diminish just because the disease also endangers people in other settings,” they said. “That is especially so because … COVID–19 poses special risks in most workplaces, across the country and across industries.”

The mandate, which was issued in November, covers organizations with 100 or more workers. Employers had been anxiously awaiting the court’s decision, with one survey finding that 75% of companies subject to the mandate would not require vaccination or testing if it was struck down.

The decision “undercut one of President Biden’s most significant attempts to tame the virus and left the country with a patchwork of state laws and policies, largely leaving companies and businesses on their own,” The New York Times said.

The Supreme Court majority described the mandate as a “significant encroachment into the lives — and health — of a vast number of employees.” 

The dissenters noted, however, that OSHA considered employers’ claims that the mandate would cause hundreds of thousands of employees to leave their jobs and “found it exaggerated.”

“According to OSHA, employers that have implemented vaccine mandates have found that far fewer employees actually quit their jobs than threaten to do so,” they said.