Court reinstates Biden vaccine mandate
A US federal appeals court has reinstated the Biden administration’s Covid-19 vaccination mandate for large private businesses, reversing an injunction by another court last month to pause the vaccine and testing requirement.
In its ruling on Friday, the Sixth US Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio upheld the authority of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to enforce the mandate, which it called an “important step” in curtailing coronavirus transmission.
Vaccination and medical examinations are both tools that OSHA historically employed to contain illness in the workplace, Judge Julia Gibbons wrote in her majority opinion. She said the mandate was therefore “not a novel expansion of OSHA’s power” but an “existing application of authority to a novel and dangerous worldwide pandemic.”
The mandate, introduced in November, applied to private businesses with at least 100 employees and would have affected 80 million workers. Under threat of fines, businesses were told to ensure their staff were fully vaccinated by January 4 or have them submit weekly Covid-19 tests in order to work. Unvaccinated workers would also have had to wear masks indoors from December 5.
However, the Biden administration was forced to suspend the enforcement of the rules after a court halted the order on November 12, citing “grave statutory and constitutional issues.” That ruling described the policy as “staggeringly overboard” and “fatally flawed.”
More than two dozen lawsuits were filed by Republican-led states, industry associations, and individual businesses to fight the mandate. They argued that the OSHA was not authorized to impose such rules and said fines for non-compliance – starting at nearly $14,000 per violation – would hurt businesses.
The Cincinnati court said such claims were “speculative.” Judge Jane Stranch wrote that the “harm to the Government and the public interest outweighs any irreparable injury” to individuals and businesses.
In the lone dissenting opinion, Judge Joan Larsen, a Donald Trump nominee, said Congress had not authorized the OSHA to make this sort of rule and argued that vaccinated workers “do not face ‘grave danger’ from working with those who are not vaccinated.”
The mandate – which was repealed by the Senate earlier this month – will likely face scrutiny from the Supreme Court next.