Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, writing that the majority has usurped the power of Congress, the president and OSHA without legal basis.
“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,” they said in their dissent.
“As disease and death continue to mount, this Court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible. Without legal basis, the Court usurps a decision that rightfully belongs to others. It undercuts the capacity of the responsible federal officials, acting well within the scope of their authority, to protect American workers from grave danger,” they wrote.
President Joe Biden, in a statement, said the Supreme Court chose to block requirements that are life-saving for workers. Biden called on states and businesses to step up and voluntarily institute vaccination requirements to protect workers, customers and the broader community.
“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.
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh called the court’s decision a major setback for the health and safety of workers, vowing OSHA would use its existing authority to make sure businesses are protecting employees. The American Medical Association, one of the largest doctors’ groups in the nation, said it was “deeply disappointed.”
“In the face of a continually evolving COVID-19 pandemic that poses a serious danger to the health of our nation, the Supreme Court today halted one of the most effective tools in the fight against further transmission and death from this aggressive virus,” AMA President Gerald Harmon said.
In a separate, simultaneously released ruling on the administration’s vaccination rules for health-care workers, a 5-4 majority sided with the Biden administration.
“We agree with the Government that the [Health and Human Services] Secretary’s rule falls within the authorities that Congress has conferred upon him,” said the majority, writing that the rule “fits neatly within the language of the statute.”
“After all, ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is consistent with the fundamental principle of the medical profession: first, do no harm,” the majority opinion read.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett, four of the six conservatives on the nine-seat bench, dissented.
“I do not think that the Federal Government is likely to be able to show that Congress has authorized the unprecedented step of compelling over 10,000,000 healthcare workers to be vaccinated on pain of being fired,” Alito wrote in his dissent.
Biden, in a statement, said the vaccine requirement for health-care workers will save the lives of patients, doctors and nurses. “We will enforce it,” the president said of the mandate.
OSHA, which polices workplace safety for the Labor Department, issued the business mandate under its emergency power established by Congress. OSHA can shortcut the normal rulemaking process, which can take years, if the Labor secretary determines a new workplace safety standard is necessary to protect workers from a grave danger.