With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations reaching a new record high as a result of the Omicron variant, the Supreme Court on Thursday put the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers on hold, while litigation over its legality continues in the lower courts. Over a dissent from the court’s three liberal justices, the court ruled that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration exceeded its power in issuing the mandate. Congress may have given OSHA the power to regulate workplace dangers, the court explained, but it “has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly.” At the same time, the justices – by a vote of 5-4 – granted the administration’s request to be allowed to temporarily enforce a vaccine mandate for health care workers at facilities that receive federal funding.
The orders that the justices issued on Thursday afternoon were the latest chapter in the fast-moving vaccine disputes. After the cases came to the Supreme Court in December on an emergency basis, the justices opted to expedite the cases for oral argument on whether the mandates can remain in place while the challenges proceed in the lower courts. The court heard nearly four hours of arguments on the policies on Jan. 7 and issued a pair of unsigned opinions just six days later.