Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for US businesses

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The Supreme Court has stopped the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees at large businesses be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask on the job.

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S.

The court’s orders Thursday during a spike in coronavirus cases was a mixed bag for the administration’s efforts to boost the vaccination rate among Americans.

Hamline University political science professor David Schultz said the question of who has the authority to make decisions was at the forefront of the ruling.

“The two decisions all hung on in part was about congressional power and about presidential power,” Schultz said.

The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected.

"OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here," the conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.

In dissent, the court’s three liberals argued that it was the court that was overreaching by substituting its judgments for health experts. "Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies," Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.

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Some Minnesota businesses were worried this mandate would trigger a wave of resignations while battling staffing challenges. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce said businesses are happy about the decision, but experts said this may not be the end of the legal battle.

“We are pleased with the courts constraint. We at the Minnesota Chamber continue to believe that employers know best how to manage their workplaces and keep their employees as well as their customers safe,” Minnesota Chamber of Commerce representative Vicki Stute said.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said the ruling was the wrong move.

“I do think it’s important every time the Supreme Court makes a ruling to be very clear we respect that opinion we will follow what they ask. But I do express my disappointment that I think they made the wrong decision,” Walz said.

Schultz explained this is not the end of the legal battle.

“Let’s say litigation coming from healthcare workers who might still try to raise other challenges. Again, we might see Congress taking other action, the President might try to maybe change his order for businesses,” Schultz said.

The vaccine mandate that the court will allow to be enforced nationwide covers virtually all health care workers in the country.

More than 208 million Americans, 62.7% of the population, are fully vaccinated, and more than a third of those have received booster shots, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All nine justices have gotten booster shots.

KSTP’s Brittney Ermon contributed to this report.