U.S. Supreme Court Issues Split Rulings on Vaccine Mandates

After hearing oral arguments on the cases last week, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday issued two decisions on COVID-19 vaccine mandates for specified occupational groups set forth by the Biden-Harris Administration. Below, we highlight these decisions:

Vaccine Mandate for Large Employers

The Supreme Court struck down the vaccine-or-test mandate for employers with 100 or more employees issued by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Justices ruled on the OSHA case on a 6-3 vote with Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissenting. The majority opinion of the court maintained that OSHA exceeded its authority in issuing the requirement.

The unsigned majority opinion notes, “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. Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category.”

The dissenting Justices, in their written opinion, argues that the court’s conservative majority “seriously misapplies the applicable legal standards” and “stymies the Federal Government’s ability to counter the unparalleled threat that COVID-19 poses to our Nation’s workers.”

Following the ruling, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. issued a statement expressing his disappointment that the Supreme Court blocked the “common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law.” In light of the ruling, the Biden-Harris Administration is calling on businesses and industries to institute vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers, and communities.

The full ruling from the court is available here.

Vaccine Mandate for Health Care Workers

In contrast to the Supreme Court’s OSHA ruling, the court upheld the vaccination requirements for Medicare and Medicaid providers issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Justices voted on 5-4 ruling with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. The court’s majority opinion notes that the CMS rule “fits neatly within the language of the statute” and upholds the fundamental principle for the medical profession of “first, do no harm.”

The four dissenting Justices issued two separate opinions authored by Justices Thomas and Alito. Justice Thomas notes, “These cases are not about the efficacy or importance of COVID-19 vaccines. They are only about whether CMS has the statutory authority to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo.”

The full ruling from the court is available here.