Biden urges Supreme Court to maintain workplace vaccine mandate

The Biden administration on Thursday urged the Supreme Court to leave intact a workplace vaccine-or-test mandate as public health officials contend with the surging COVID-19 pandemic.

The administration’s brief, filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), comes in response to a legal challenge brought by interest groups and employers across the country who allege the health measure is an unlawful exercise of government power.

The central question in the case is whether Congress gave the executive branch the broad authority to impose such a sweeping workplace regulation, which applies to businesses with 100 or more workers.

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DOJ lawyers argued that the 1970 law that established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) makes plain that the policy “falls squarely within OSHA’s statutory authority.”

The workplace mandate is scheduled to take effect next month and could affect an estimated 84 million employees. It generally requires larger businesses to adopt written policies requiring workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or wear masks and undergo regular testing. 

OSHA estimates the policy will save the lives of more than 6,500 workers and prevent some 250,000 hospitalizations over the course of six months, according to the DOJ court filing.

To date, more than 820,000 people have died in the U.S. as a result of the global pandemic. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show unvaccinated people are 14 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than vaccinated people.

Challengers to the mandate have asked the justices to block the policy while the case proceeds through the lower courts, or take up a formal appeal of a federal appeals court ruling that preliminarily sustained the mandate.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case, National Federation of Independent Business v. OSHA, on Jan. 7. That same day, the justices will also hear arguments over the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for workers at hospitals that receive federal funding.