The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Joe Biden's federal mandate that would've required employees at companies with 100 or more workers to be fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.
"The [Department of Labor] Secretary has ordered 84 million Americans to either obtain a COVID–19 vaccine or undergo weekly medical testing at their own expense. This is no 'everyday exercise of federal power,'" the court wrote. "It is instead a significant encroachment into the lives—and health—of a vast number of employees."
Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, and Neil Gorsuch concurred, writing that in the past two years, Congress has passed several major pieces of legislation aimed at fighting COVID, but "Congress has chosen not to afford OSHA—or any federal agency—the authority to issue a vaccine mandate." The group also pointed out that a majority of the Senate voted against the OSHA regulation in December.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer dissented. The judges said the Court is "acting outside" of its legal basis and that the ruling "stymies the Federal Government’s ability to counter the unparalleled threat that COVID–19 poses to our Nation’s workers."
Biden said he was disappointed with the Court's decision to "block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law."
He said it's now up to states and individual employers to determine how to make their workplaces as safe as possible.
"The Court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to require this measure, but that does not stop me from using my voice as President to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy," Biden said in a statement. "I call on business leaders to immediately join those who have already stepped up – including one third of Fortune 100 companies – and institute vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers, and communities."
U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh called it a "major setback to the health and safety of workers across the country."
He urged all employers to require full vaccination or weekly testing, noting that unvaccinated individuals are 15-20 times more likely to die from COVID.
"OSHA promulgated the ETS under clear authority established by Congress to protect workers facing grave danger in the workplace, and COVID is without doubt such a danger," Walsh said in a statement. "The emergency temporary standard is based on science and data that show the effectiveness of vaccines against the spread of coronavirus and the grave danger faced by unvaccinated workers."
After the mandate was officially rolled out in early November, it was met with swift criticism and legal challenges. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit blocked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from enforcing the rule. Lawsuits from other areas of the country were then consolidated, and the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit was selected at random to hear the case. The judges voted 2-1 to allow the mandate.
In response, business groups, religious nonprofits, and nearly 30 states asked the Supreme Court to block the vaccine mandate.
Prior to the ruling, private employers had until January 10 to comply with the mandate and until February 9 to follow the standard's testing requirements.
Restaurants were mostly quiet about the vaccine mandate, except for Starbucks, which announced in early January it will require U.S. workers to be fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing by February 9 to comply with the vaccine order.