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Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine-or-test mandate for large private companies

The Supreme Court
Evan Vucci
The Supreme Court

The Missouri Attorney General had led a lawsuit against the Biden administration's vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers. However, the Supreme Court upheld a federal mandate for some health care workers, which Missouri had also challenged.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration's vaccine-or-test rule Thursday, declaring that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had exceeded its authority. But at the same time, the court upheld a regulation issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that mandates vaccines for almost all employees at hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare providers that receive federal funds.

The vote to invalidate the vaccine-or-test regulation was 6 to 3, along ideological lines.

"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 majority said in an unsigned opinion. "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."

The regulation struck down by the court would have applied to more than 80 million private sector employees and would have required all businesses with 100 or more workers to either be vaccinated, with the federal government footing the bill, or be tested weekly.

The decision to invalidate the regulation comes as COVID-19 cases reached a new high of 1.4 million early this week. That has swamped hospitals across the country, flooding them with mainly with unvaccinated patients; the situation has been serious enough to prompt some governors to call out the National Guard to help, even as governors in some other, Republican-dominated states have made vaccine mandates illegal.

In stark contrast to the decision in the OSHA case, the court voted 5 to 4 in the CMS case uphold mandatory vaccinations for Medicare and Medicaid providers.

The court said that the vaccine mandate for health care workers was, unlike the OHA regulation, justified by the spending clause of the Constitution which allows the federal government to impose conditions when it provides funding for programs like Medicaid and Medicare. In addition, the court said, the regulation served to protect patients from being exposed to greater risks when they are in a hospital, nursing home, or being cared for by other health entities.

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Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.
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