The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large private employers but temporarily allowed a separate vaccine requirement for healthcare workers to take effect while challenges continue in lower courts.
In Biden v. Missouri, which concerns a vaccine mandate for healthcare employees at Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities, the justices were split 5-4.
The Department of Health and Human Services issued the rule, which applies to more than 10 million workers, in November, but two federal district courts – in Missouri and Louisiana – put the rule on hold in roughly half the states.
In an unsigned opinion, the court emphasized that a key responsibility of the Department of Health and Human Services is “to ensure that the healthcare providers who care for Medicare and Medicaid patients protect their patients’ health and safety.” To do so, HHS has long required those providers to comply with a variety of conditions if they want to receive Medicare and Medicaid funding. Because COVID-19 “is a highly contagious, dangerous, and — especially for Medicare and Medicaid patients — deadly disease,” HHS determined that a vaccine mandate was necessary to protect patients because it would decrease the chances that health care workers would both contract the virus and pass it on to their patients. Such a mandate, the court wrote, “fits neatly within” the power given to HHS by Congress. (SCOTUSblog)
Justices Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett.
Below are some of the most important quotes from that opinion.
1. "Here, the omnibus rule compels millions of healthcare workers to undergo an unwanted medical procedure that 'cannot be removed at the end of the shift,' In re MCP No. 165, 20 F. 4th 264, 268 (CA6 2021) (Sutton, C. J., dissenting from denial of initial hearing en banc)."
2. "The Government has not made a strong showing that this agglomeration of statutes authorizes any such rule. To start, 5 of the 15 facility-specific statutes do not authorize CMS to impose 'health and safety' regulations at all. [...] These provisions cannot support an argument based on statutory text they lack. Perhaps that is why the Government only weakly defends them as a basis for its authority."
3. "[T]he Government proposes to find virtually unlimited vaccination power, over millions of healthcare workers, in definitional provisions, a saving clause, and a provision regarding long-term care facilities’ sanitation procedures. The Government has not explained why Congress would have used these ancillary provisions to house what can only be characterized as a 'fundamental detail' of the statutory scheme. Had Congress wanted to grant CMS power to impose a vaccine mandate across all facility types, it would have done what it has done elsewhere—specifically authorize one."
4. "If Congress had wanted to grant CMS authority to impose a nationwide vaccine mandate, and consequently alter the state-federal balance, it would have said so clearly. It did not."
5. "These cases are not about the efficacy or importance of COVID–19 vaccines. They are only about whether CMS has the statutory authority to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo. Because the Government has not made a strong showing that Congress gave CMS that broad authority, I would deny the stays pending appeal. I respectfully dissent."