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Supreme Court blocks Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine-or-test rule

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  • Joe Biden
    Joe Biden
    46th and current president of the United States

Yahoo Finance's Alexis Keenan reports on the Supreme Court's ruling blocking the Biden administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Video Transcript

- We're going to switch gears now. The Supreme Court has blocked President Biden's COVID vaccine mandate for large businesses. With more on that story, let's bring in Yahoo Finance's Alexis Keenan. Alexis, what can you tell us?

ALEXIS KEENAN: Hi there. Excuse me. Catching my breath after reading these, at least part of these decisions here. The Supreme Court, on one hand, blocking the federal government's COVID vaccine or testing requirement for large employers. Those are the employers that the federal government had said would have to have either vaccinated or weekly-tested employees for those that have 100 or more employees in their workforce. On the other hand, the Supreme Court coming to the opposite conclusion, allowing a vaccine mandate for federally-funded health care facilities.

Now, that was a little bit different, that mandate. That one required health care facilities that receive funding for Medicaid and Medicare, those facilities would have to have a fully vaccinated workforce with no testing option in that case. So the government really having a different kind of apples-and-oranges result here. On one hand, the Biden administration is not going to be able to enforce, at least for now while this litigation plays out in lower courts and possibly back in the Supreme Court.

But at least for now, the government is not going to be able to enforce that mandate against those large employers. So different decisions coming down here. Not totally surprising after having listened to the justice's question, whether the federal government did have authority to have OSHA implementing this mandate against those large employers. So what will happen here is it will get stayed, this enforcement option for the government will get held until the lower courts make their decisions. And like I was saying, it could come back up to the Supreme Court eventually. But there's going to be some time here it's going to take for the litigation to play out.

- So Alexis, if I understand this correctly, the Supreme Court blocking Biden's COVID-19 vaccine rules for large private employers but allowing it for those in the health care industry. Do you expect there's going to be some pushback there, and what can folks in that industry expect going forward?

ALEXIS KEENAN: You know, Alexis, there have been just a bevy of lawsuits across the country. And they have come from, not only health care workers, but also workers for large employers. Now, those litigations will possibly be affected here, because it's not looking like, if you're a health care worker who works in a facility that does receive federal funding through Medicare and Medicaid-- and that's a whole lot of them, the majority of them-- those workers are not going to have a leg to stand on here, at least for enforcement in the time being.

Eventually, once the constitutionality of both of these issues is handled in the lower courts, it could be that there's an opposite decision. But what the Supreme Court is saying here is that, for now, the Biden administration and, in this case, for the health care workers, it's CMS that's implementing this rule. They're going to be able to enforce it. So a lot more difficult for health care workers to make an argument here that they're not going to be vaccinated while they're treating perhaps patients. And there are other workers, look, in health care facilities who are impacted, too. They don't have to be just those that are caregivers necessarily.

- So Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan were the ones that were dissenting, but this decision comes down three days after OSHA already implemented this rule. So companies, presumably large ones, have already started initiating this. How much confusion then does this cause?

ALEXIS KEENAN: There's a lot of confusion. And one of the things that the justices were pointing out in their line of questioning last Friday was that it's not really until February 9th that the real implementation on the large business side was going to take effect. The administration had agreed to postpone the enforcement of the mask or testing rule and just saying that, for the time being, that just masking would be required. So a little bit of a hiccup for sure.

And look, a lot of the White House making these rules in the first place, some people say, was to incentivize businesses to anticipate that the rule is going to be enforceable and just go ahead and adopt these rules for vaccination anyhow. So certainly, a lot of progress was made just by optics alone in the anticipation that these rules would take effect. As far as whether businesses will decide to pull back and make their vaccination requirements less strict, that's a possibility. But at least what the justices are saying here is that these companies will not be required to ensure that they have that fully vaccinated or tested workforce.

- But still, Alexis, there's nothing stopping these private corporations from coming down with their own requirements, which could be all employees need to be vaxxed. And if not, they need to go through testing.

ALEXIS KEENAN: Right. So we should definitely make it clear that private businesses, they can opt to do what they want. They can adopt the testing or vaccination regime of their choice. If they want it to be even more restrictive than what the federal government was trying to do here, they can. So courts are in wide agreement on that issue, though there's also litigation challenging how far private businesses can go. So so much to be decided here still among the lower courts.

And I would not be surprised at all if this issue and others make their way all the way back up to the Supreme Court. But what kind of environment we'll be dealing with by then in terms of transmissibility, in terms of testing options, in terms of treatment options, this is a moving target. And that's perhaps another thing that these justices were dealing with, with the transmissibility looking up perhaps a bit different based on some of the data than it was early on in the pandemic.

So a lot for them to deal with here. I'm still working my way through these long decisions. I haven't read the whole thing, just kind of the headlines here. But, yes, absolutely. There are going to have to be some adaptations made, but private businesses can do what they please.

- Yeah. Certainly, they took their time making that decision. I'm sure the White House not too happy about the way it's come down. All right. Yahoo Finance's Alexis Keenan. Thanks for parsing through that for us.

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