The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it is scraping its vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers after the Supreme Court blocked the rule earlier this month.
“Although OSHA is withdrawing the vaccination and testing ETS as an enforceable emergency temporary standard, the agency is not withdrawing the ETS as a proposed rule,” the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in a statement. “The agency is prioritizing its resources to focus on finalizing a permanent COVID-19 Healthcare Standard.”
“OSHA continues to strongly encourage the vaccination of workers against the continuing dangers posed by Covid-19 in the workplace,” the agency added.
Earlier this month, the conservative majority on the bench ruled in a 6-3 vote to block the vaccine requirement for private businesses pending further review by the court, finding that OSHA lacked the authority to impose such a mandate. The law that created OSHA “empowers the Secretary to set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures,” the Court said.
The ruling described OSHA’s mandate, which would have applied to some 80 million people, as a “blunt instrument.”
The outstanding legal proceedings will be dropped now that the Labor Department has withdrawn the rule. The case was set to return to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati.
While OSHA could still attempt to implement a more focused vaccine-or-test standard through its official rule-making process, such as one directed towards high-hazard industries, such a rule would also likely face legal challenges.
Though the Supreme Court blocked the vaccine or test requirement for large employers, the Court ruled that a vaccine requirement for healthcare workers at facilities that receive federal funding could go forward, given that those institutions fall within the government’s regulatory domain.
Congress granted the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to “impose conditions on the receipt of Medicaid and Medicare funds” that for the health and safety of individuals who provide those services, the Court said. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch dissented. Thomas argued in a dissenting opinion that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is not authorized to prescribe something as specific as a vaccine mandate by its respective laws.
Meanwhile, a federal judge in Texas on Friday halted enforcement of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers. The preliminary injunction came months after the White House announced that 95 percent of federal workers had already complied with the mandate.
The mandate for federal workers was handed down in September. More than 3.5 million federal workers were required to get vaccinated by November 22 — without the option to test-out of the vaccine requirement. Workers could only be exempted from the mandate if they had applicable religious or medical exemptions.
Judge Jeffrey Brown ruled that a lawsuit filed by Feds for Medical Freedom was likely to succeed at trial and issued an injunction stopping the government from enforcing the requirement.
“This case is not about whether folks should get vaccinated against COVID-19 — the court believes they should,” Brown wrote in a 20-page ruling. “It is not even about the federal government’s power, exercised properly, to mandate vaccination of its employees. It is instead about whether the president can, with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment. That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far.”