Health: Supreme Court Weighs in on Vaccine Mandates

The Story:

On January 13, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions on the Biden administration’s “vaccine mandates.” Although it upheld an HHS rule requiring that staff in care facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid monies be vaccinated in the absence of medical or religious grounds for exemption, it blocked OSHA’s vaccine-or-test mandate for private workplaces of 100 or more employees.


The OSHA decision came on a 6/3 vote, with Justice Breyer dissenting, for himself, Sotomayor, and Kagan. The Medicaid/Medicare decision, on the other hand, came on a 5/4 vote, with Justice Thomas dissenting, writing for himself, Alito, Gorsuch, and Barrett. This alignment suggests a new equilibrium has developed in politically sensitive cases. The three appointees of Democratic Presidents (the dissenters in the OSHA decision) can find themselves on the winning side if they can persuade Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh to take their view. Those are the swing votes. The other four (the dissenters in the healthcare facilities case) are seldom if ever to be found agreeing with Breyer at al in such matters.

In Pill Form: 

In the OSHA case, the court said that the lack of historical precedent is noteworthy. “OSHA, in its half century of existence, has never before adopted a broad public health regulation
of this kind—addressing a threat that is untethered, in any causal sense, from the workplace.” That indicates, in the majority’s view, that this rule extended beyond OSHA’s statutory mandate.

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