The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large workplaces of 100 or more employees. However, the court will allow a nationwide vaccine mandate for workers at federally funded health care facilities to take effect, which may affect up to 10 million workers.

In what is being hailed as a victory for those who oppose the vaccine mandates, the blocking of the OSHA mandate was decided in a 6-3 ruling with Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagen dissenting.

“The question before us is not how to respond to the pandemic, but who holds the power to do so,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in his concurring opinion. “The answer is clear: Under the law as it stands today, that power rests with the States and Congress, not OSHA.”

In their dissenting opinion, Justices Sotomayor, Breyer and Kagen wrote, “When we are wise, we know enough to defer on matters like this one. When we are wise, we know not to displace the judgments of experts, acting within the sphere Congress marked out and under Presidential control, to deal with emergency conditions. Today, we are not wise.” 

The decision to uphold the mandate for federally funded health care workers passed 5-4 with Justices Brett Kavanaugh, John Roberts, Sotomayor, Breyer and Kagen ruling in favor and  Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett dissenting.

Alabama leaders respond

Shortly following the release of the Supreme Court’s decision, several Alabama officials issued the following statements: 

Gov. Kay Ivey: “During my state of the state address earlier this week, I reaffirmed my commitment to fighting back against D.C. overreach and calling out their political games and nonsense when I see it. Ever since the White House rolled out their scare tactic plans to try to force the COVID-19 vaccine on Americans, I assured the people of Alabama that we were standing firmly against it.

 “I said that we would win this battle in the courts, which is why I supported Alabama taking legal action against the Biden Administration’s failed attempt to mandate this vaccine. Today, the Supreme Court gave us a major victory by stopping OSHA’s vaccine mandate for large employers from going into effect. 

 “However, I completely disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to let the mandate on health care workers move forward. At a time when hospitals around the country are experiencing shortages and burnout in staff, why would they then run more off with an overreaching mandate by the president? I do not believe the White House is equipped to tell health care professionals they know better when it comes to medical advice.”

Sen. Tommy Tuberville: [The Supreme Court] reaffirms what Republicans have said all along — [the president’s] employer vaccine mandate is an abuse of executive power and unconstitutional. The vaccine decision should be made between patient and physician — and it shouldn’t be a question of take it or get fired.”

Rep. Robert Aderholt: “The Supreme Court made the right decision.  The employer mandate issued by the Administration was too broad and heavy-handed – a one-size fits all requirement that did not take into account the realities of workplaces and our economy.  I’m thankful we have a high court that will rein in this type of government overreach.”

Rep. Barry Moore: “The American people have had it with President Biden’s arbitrary and authoritarian mandates that disregard the overwhelming will of the American people, basic science, and our Constitution,” said Moore. “I am pleased and relieved with today’s ruling, but this battle is far from over. I will continue fighting to protect our freedoms and hold accountable all who seek to steal them from the American people.”

The ruling today blocked a Biden mandate issued through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which would have forced all private employers with more than 100 employees to ensure their employees were vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing.

AG Steve Marshall: “I applaud the U.S. Supreme Court’s stay of Biden’s private-employer vaccine  mandate, which affects the greatest number of Americans,” said Attorney General Marshall.  “This is a win for the Constitution over the most overreaching of Biden’s unlawful, unconstitutional, and un-American mandates, which sought to force some 80 million employees to submit to vaccinations or lose their jobs.  As I noted when Alabama filed its legal challenge to the private-employer vaccine mandate, not only is this mandate based on a faulty public health premise—that workplace immunization will stop the spread of COVID-19—but it is based on an utterly flawed legal premise as well.

“As the Supreme Court majority opinion stated succinctly: ‘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. [The private-employer vaccine mandate] certainly falls in the latter category.’

“I am, however, greatly disappointed with the Court’s decision regarding the Biden administration’s healthcare-worker vaccine mandate.  As with the private-employer vaccine mandate, the healthcare-worker vaccine mandate far exceeded any power Congress gave the administration, and the mandate will cause many frontline healthcare workers to find new work, precisely at a moment when hospitals around the country are struggling to find doctors and nurses. By allowing this vaccine mandate to continue, the Court has further empowered the federal administrative state, eroded state sovereignty, and likely guaranteed worse health outcomes in Alabama and beyond, as overburdened healthcare workers are stretched thinner still.

“As Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, and Barrett, explained in dissent: ‘Today’s decision will ripple through administrative agencies’ future decision making. The Executive Branch already touches nearly every aspect of Americans’ lives. . . . Neither CMS nor the Court articulates a limiting principle for why, after an unexplained and unjustified delay, an agency can regulate first and listen later, and then put more than 10 million healthcare workers to the choice of their jobs or an irreversible medical treatment.’”

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