Lots of gray encircles discussion of COVID, the variants, vaccines, boosters, test kits, state-level mandates, but one issue is now settled. Last week the US Supreme Court ruled that a mandate forcing vaccines – under threat of federal penalties – on employers with 100 or more employees – cannot stand. Most scholars thought so, but now we know. See, e.g., Supreme Court blocks Biden OSHA vaccine mandate, allows rule for health care workers.
What does that decision mean? Plain things, and more than meets the eye.
First, the Court made clear, while the federal government can require some health care workers to comply, they cannot issue a blanket federal mandate threatening employers with punishment for not infringing their employees’ rights. That is a big relief.
To most Americans, whatever their view of vaccines, the holding makes sense. The High Court ruled OSHA – the Occupational Health and Safety Administration – lacked “authority” to impose such a broad, heavy-handed penalty across all American employers.
Specifically, the law “empowers” OSHA to “set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures,” and “although COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most.”
“COVID–19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather.” Common sense says “that kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases.”
Accordingly, Biden’s overreach is impermissible. As in other areas, like a unilateral extension of an eviction ban during COVID, the Court said: No. They also struck down Biden’s eviction ban last summer.
Since the OSHA mandate “would significantly expand” federal authority beyond parameters set by statute, the federal mandate fails. At a basic level, employers can now honor citizen rights without the threat of penalty and need not enforce the expansive federal mandate.
The second impact is more subtle. The Court is sending a message – relating to COVID and other issues. They take a dim view of federal overreach, misinterpretation of federal statutes, over-regulation, and unilateral assertion of authorities not reasonably found in governing laws.
Third, the High Court held fire on the “issue behind the issue,” a constitutional question raised by persistent Biden White House flouting of US Supreme Court rulings and the Constitution.
The 10th Amendment says: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” That Amendment is important. See, e.g., The Tenth Amendment; All of a Sudden, Everyone Loves the Tenth Amendment.
While the Supreme Court did not reach the issue, since the statute’s meaning was made clear, constitutional questions still hover. The 19th Amendment is why Trump did not attempt federal vaccine mandates, and why a material difference separates Federal and State mandates.
The implication that shadows this ruling, and Biden knows it, is that the High Court does not favor federal usurpation of constitutionally protected rights of “the States” or “people.”
Fourth, this ruling is important for the economy. While federal benefits sidelined much of the labor force, artificially pushing wages up, limiting labor availability, compounding business and consumer concerns over inflation, interest rates, and growth, this ruling may pop the cork –permit businesses to believe again.
While the federal vaccine mandate – and threats of federal punishment for not firing employees without vaccines – is only a small part of federal mismanagement of the economy, removing that barrier may give businesses confidence (and employees vital assurances) to push up growth.
Often a High Court ruling will affect the parties, maybe one sector, perhaps have an incremental impact on many, but here is something different. The initial overbroad mandate affected a huge number of US businesses. Accordingly, removing it does the same – in a positive direction,
Finally, the most subtle – arguably most important – the impact is this: The Supreme Court will not be moved, cowed, dictated to, scared, threatened, or quieted by an aggressive executive branch.
That has big implications for other Court rulings, makes the Americans safer. If the judicial branch is independent of politics, a coequal branch, the Republic is safer. If a day comes when the Court bows to politics, all bets are off. So, this ruling was important – and good.
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