On Thursday, January 13, 2022, the Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated decisions on the Biden vaccine mandates. Specifically, two mandates were at issue: (1) the mandate that all employers with over 100 employees require vaccinations for all employees; and (2) the mandate that healthcare workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding be vaccinated. The Supreme Court blocked the former but upheld the latter.
With regard to large businesses, the Biden administration sought to impose the vaccine mandate via OSHA, the federal agency charged with ensuring workplace safety. The Supreme Court found that such action overstepped the authority granted to OSHA by Congress, writing, “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,”
Note that the Supreme Court’s decision does not make it illegal for employers to voluntarily institute a mandatory vaccine policy. It simply means that the federal government cannot force them to do so.
Interestingly, the Supreme Court upheld the federal government’s right to impose a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers at facilities participating in Medicare or Medicaid programs. That mandate was issued through the Department of Health and Human Services. That agency has the general power to issue regulations to ensure the “efficient administration” of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, as well as the health and safety of patients. In light of this, the majority found that the mandate “fits neatly within the language of the statute.”
As one might expect, neither of these decisions was unanimous. The employer mandate case was split 6-3, while the healthcare worker case was split 5-4.