The United States Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the federal vaccine-or-test requirement for large workplaces, delivering a serious blow to President Biden’s efforts to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Court allowed a vaccine mandate for workers at federally funded health care facilities to proceed.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion that struck down the larger requirement, which would have impacted 80 million Americans. He said Biden’s plan – which empowers the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to impose the vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees – “takes on the character of a general public health measure, rather than an ‘occupational safety or health standard.'”

He concluded:

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.

In a dissent, liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan wrote “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.”

They added:

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. In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this Court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed. As disease and death continue to mount, this Court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Kavanaugh joined the three liberal judges in upholding the mandate for healthcare workers.

The majority opinion points out that “healthcare facilities that wish to participate in Medicare and Medicaid have always been obligated to satisfy a host of conditions that address the safe and effective provision of healthcare.”

“Vaccination requirements are a common feature of the provision of healthcare in America: Healthcare workers around the country are ordinarily required to be vaccinated for diseases such as hepatitis B, influenza, and measles, mumps, and rubella,” they added.