- Natalie Sherman
- BBC business correspondent from New York
The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down President Biden’s rule requiring employees at major companies to get vaccinated or wear masks and get tested every week.
The U.S. Supreme Court justices said the injunction was beyond the authority of the Biden administration.
In addition, they ruled that a more limited vaccine mandate should be imposed on staff at government-funded healthcare facilities.
The Biden administration says the mandates will help fight the pandemic.
U.S. President Joe Biden, whose approval ratings have been declining, expressed dismay at the Supreme Court’s decision to “block common-sense lifesaving demands on employees.”
He added: “I call on business leaders to immediately join those businesses that have taken action, including one-third of Fortune 100 companies, in developing vaccination requirements to protect their people, customers and communities.”
Former U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, saying the vaccine mandate “would further damage the economy.”
“We are proud that the Supreme Court did not back down,” he said in a statement. “There is no injunction!”
This applies to workplaces with at least 100 employees, affecting about 84 million employees, and is enforced by employers.
Opponents, including several Republican states and some business groups, say the Biden administration has overstepped its authority on the demands. The requirements were introduced last November, prompting immediate legal challenges.
The justices agreed in a 6-3 vote, saying workplace safety rules for large employers are too broad and should not be covered by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Administration) to manage workplace safety.
“Coronavirus can and does spread in homes, schools, during sporting events, and wherever people gather,” the Supreme Court’s majority wrote.
“This pervasive risk is no different from everyday dangers like crime, air pollution or any infectious disease.”
“This is not an ‘everyday exercise of federal authority,'” they added, “rather, it is a grave violation of the lives and health of a large number of employees.”
And they voted 5 to 4 on restrictive rules for more than 10 million workers in government-funded health facilities that would not raise the same concerns.
That said, imposing restrictions on recipients of public funds is “fully” within the authority of the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
The rulings come as some of the policies take effect this week.
These rulings reflect the political makeup of the Supreme Court. Currently, most justices on the Supreme Court are appointed by Republican presidents.
Three liberal Supreme Court justices opposed blocking the vaccine mandate, saying such a decision “impedes the federal government’s ability to respond to the novel coronavirus, which poses an unprecedented threat to our nation’s employees.”
Chief Justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh, seen as moderates among the majority of conservatives, joined liberals in allowing the health care rule to go into effect.
The decision comes as the U.S. is experiencing another wave of Covid-19 infections, with the Omicron variant causing record numbers of cases and hospitalizations.
More than 60% of Americans are fully vaccinated. In addition to government regulations, some companies, including Google, Citibank and IBM, have moved forward with their own requirements.
The lobbying group the National Federation of Independent Businesses is one of the lead plaintiffs challenging the government’s workplace vaccine regulations. The group alleges that the rule will impose a new burden of compliance costs on small business owners, make filling job openings more difficult, and lead to lost profits and lost sales.
“Today’s decision is a welcome consolation for America’s small businesses, who have been working hard to get their businesses back on track since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Karen Harned, executive director of the organization’s legal department. .”
BBC North America correspondent Anthony Zurcher
Ultimately, whether a Joe Biden vaccine mandate can be enforced is based on judicial interpretation of federal regulations, not a call for individual liberty principles or the greater good.
According to the Supreme Court majority, Biden has the law on his side when he orders healthcare workers to be vaccinated, but using 51 years of workplace safety regulations to impose vaccine or testing requirements on all major employers is too ambitious.
Once again, the current balance of the Supreme Court is highlighted, with four solid conservative justices, three solid liberal justices and two — Chief Justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh — on ideological fulcrums.
The mixed justice package is just the latest setback in the president’s coronavirus response plan, which often appears to lag the latest twist in the outbreak. The government was slow to encourage stronger needles, and Omicron caught the government off guard by causing a surge in testing demand.
Now, Biden must either persuade Congress to act on the injunction, which is unlikely given that the rest of his agenda continues to hit a wall in the Senate, or he must come up with a new way to lead the country out of the shadow of the new crown epidemic.