The Supreme Court on Thursday (Jan. 13) halted the government’s mandate for large private employers but let stand for now a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for certain health care workers.
Justices halted an emergency temporary standard from the U.S. Department of Labor via the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that said private employers with 100 or more workers “must develop, implement and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to choose to either be vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work.”
Ryan Bangert, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, praised the court’s ruling.
“The Supreme Court correctly concluded that the federal administrative state has no authority to treat unvaccinated employees like workplace hazards and to compel employers to carry out the government’s unlawful national vaccine mandate,” Bangert said.
“The Biden administration’s mandate would have a profoundly negative effect on those employers and the 80 million American workers who are affected, and that is why the Supreme Court was right to immediately halt its enforcement.”
ADF sued OSHA on behalf of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Asbury Theological Seminary last fall. Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, said yesterday’s ruling was a major victory for religious liberty.
“The issue here is not the vaccine, but the attempt by the Biden administration to turn employers, including religious employers, into extensions of the administrative state,” Mohler said in a statement. “It was vital that the Supreme Court preclude a federal agency such as OSHA from coercing religious employers into violating their conscience and that of employees who may be divided over the question of vaccines on convictional grounds.”
Vaccines for health care workers
In a separate ruling, the court’s majority ruled the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services has the authority to require facilities receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding to “ensure that their staff — unless exempt for medical or religious reasons — are vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Such a requirement, the justices wrote, is in the “interest of the health and safety of individuals who are furnished services.”
Four of the court’s conservative justices dissented.
“These cases are not about the efficacy or importance of COVID-19 vaccines,” Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote. “They are only about whether (the administration) has the statutory authority to force health care workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo.”
Thomas was joined by Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett.
In his dissent, Alito wrote the federal government is unlikely to show Congress has authorized “the unprecedented step of compelling over 10,000,000 health care workers to be vaccinated on pain of being fired.”
A vaccine mandate for federal contract workers was not part of these rulings. Likewise, state vaccine mandates are not within the scope of yesterday’s ruling. Read the text of the rulings here.