WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has stopped a major push by the Biden administration to boost the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, a requirement that employees at large businesses get a vaccine or test regularly and wear a mask on the job.
At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S. The court’s orders Thursday came during a spike in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.
The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected and OSHA had estimated that the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months.
“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” the conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.
In dissent, the court’s three liberals argued that it was the court that was overreaching by substituting its judgment for that of health experts. “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,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.
President Joe Biden said he was “disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law.”
Biden called on businesses to institute their own vaccination requirements, noting that a third of Fortune 100 companies already have done so.
When crafting the OSHA rule, White House officials always anticipated legal challenges — and privately some harbored doubts that it could withstand them. The administration nonetheless still views the rule as a success at already driving millions of people to get vaccinated and encouraging private businesses to implement their own requirements that are unaffected by the legal challenge.
The OSHA regulation had initially been blocked by a federal appeals court in New Orleans, then allowed to take effect by a federal appellate panel in Cincinnati.
Both rules had been challenged by Republican-led states. In addition, business groups attacked the OSHA emergency regulation as too expensive and likely to cause workers to leave their jobs at a time when finding new employees already is difficult.
The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, called the Supreme Court’s decision “a significant victory for employers.”
The vaccine mandate that the court will allow to be enforced nationwide scraped by on a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the liberals to form a majority. The mandate covers virtually all health care workers in the country, applying to providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding. It affects 10.4 million workers at 76,000 health care facilities as well as home health care providers. The rule has medical and religious exemptions.
Biden said that decision by the court “will save lives.”
In an unsigned opinion, the court wrote: “The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not conferred upon it. At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have.” It said the “latter principle governs” in the health care arena.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent that the case was about whether the administration has the authority “to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo.” He said the administration hadn’t shown convincingly that Congress gave it that authority.
The court’s decision came on the same day Biden announced that the government will double to 1 billion the rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests to be distributed free to Americans, along with “high-quality masks,” as he highlighted his efforts to “surge” resources to help the country weather the spike in coronavirus cases.
Biden also announced that starting next week 1,000 military medical personnel will begin deploying across the country to help overwhelmed medical facilities ease staff shortages due to the highly transmissible omicron variant. Speaking at the White House, he said six additional military medical teams will be deployed to Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island.
Many facilities are struggling because their workers are in at-home quarantines due to the virus at the same time as a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases. The new deployments will be on top of other federal medical personnel who have already been sent to states to help with acute shortages.
Biden acknowledged that, “I know we’re all frustrated as we enter this new year” as virus cases reach new heights. But he insisted that it remains “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people test positive for the virus, but Biden noted medical figures showing that people are far less likely to suffer serious illness and death if they’ve received a shot: “What happens after that could not be more different.”
Biden’s comments come as his administration’s focus is shifting to easing disruptions from the spike in cases that is also contributing to grocery shortages and flight cancellations, rather than preventing the transmission of the virus.
REESEVILLE – Reeseville has entered into an agreement with Dodge County for a deputy to provide part time law enforcement services to the village of about 700 people.
Reeseville previously had a part-time police position that had been filled by police officers from other departments. However, the officers began serving more time in their own police departments, Reeseville Village Board Trustee Jim Bublitz said.
Beaver Dam Deputy Police Chief Scott Bahr served as the police chief of Reeseville for 27 years and was a valuable asset to the village. Bahr has taken on a new leadership role in Beaver Dam and there is an increasing demand for police officers everywhere, so it became difficult to fill the part-time role in Reeseville.
“He was great,” Bublitz said about Bahr. “We appreciated him. We just wanted to get more of presence of law enforcement in Reeseville, and it wasn’t feasible for them.”
Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt came up with an idea for deputies to serve the village.
“We always have provided law enforcement to the village,” Schmidt said. “This is an additional 10 hours a week where we will provide a deputy to the village.”
Schmidt said a couple of primary deputies would serve the majority of the hours in Reeseville in order to bring consistency and so the community will be aware of who serves their area.
Bublitz said a deputy was already in Reeseville Monday visiting the businesses to let people know that the village was contracting with the sheriff’s office.
While the deputies will not have office hours, the residents can contact Dodge County dispatch for a deputy to respond to the area, Schmidt said.
“The village board will make sure the community is protected in the best way possible,” Bublitz said.