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Why has the Supreme Court blocked Biden's vaccine mandate for businesses?

The President had hoped to introduce new rules requiring 84 million workers to get vaccinated, or return to mask-wearing and regular covid-19 tests.

The President had hoped to introduce new rules requiring 84 millions workers to get vaccinated, or return to mask-wearing and regular covid-19 tests.

On Thursday President Joe Biden was dealt a blow as the Supreme Court blocked a rule which would have compelled workers at large companies to get vaccinated or to resume mask-wearing measures and submit to regular covid-19 testing.

In the 6-3 vote against Biden’s vaccine mandate, Supreme Court Justices ruled that the mandate would have exceeded the Biden’s administration’s authority, dismantling a key part of the President’s plan to combat the spread of the Omicron variant. The rule would have been applied to workplaces with at least 100 employees, and would have affected around 84 million workers.

However in another ruling the Supreme Court did rule that a more limited mandate on healthcare staff would be allowed to stand. The 5-4 vote in favour ensured that all workers at healthcare facilities which receive federal funding must get vaccinated, or submit to weekly testing and mask-wearing.

Supreme Court rules that vaccine mandate was “a significant encroachment”

The 6-3 vote saw just the Court’s three liberal justices in dissent, while the six issued an unsigned majority opinion stating that the huge scope of Biden’s proposal could not be justified with a statute on workplace hazards.

The mandate was first issued by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the justices made the point that it had not been authorised to do so by Congress. In the written opinion, the Court described the proposed vaccine mandate for businesses as a “blunt tool”.

It warns that the mandate “draws no distinctions based on industry or risk of exposure to Covid-19,” but that it would create “a significant encroachment into the lives — and health — of a vast number of employees.”

Alternatively Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who all voted in favour of the mandate, expressed concern that the Court was hampering “the federal government’s ability to counter the unparalleled threat that covid-19 poses to our nation’s workers.”

What does this mean for Biden’s covid-19 response?

Throughout his time in office vaccination has been the central facet of President Biden’s covid-19 response strategy but he has been frustrated by the significant number of individuals who have not yet been vaccinated.

Combined with the reluctance from some parts of the population has been a persistent effort by opponents, including a number of Republican states, to challenge any vaccine mandate that he has attempted to introduce. The measures that were ruled on yesterday were first introduced in November but had been the subject of legal challenges, complaining that Biden was overstepping his powers.

In response to the decision, Biden lamented the decision to "block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees".

He continued: "I call on business leaders to immediately join those who have already stepped up - including one third of Fortune 100 companies - and institute vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers, and communities."