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What Utah Republicans say about the Supreme Court blocking Biden’s vaccine mandate for businesses

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Christine Spencer fills a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a Salt Lake County Health Department mobile site at Tejeda’s Market in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021. Utah political leaders hailed the U.S. Supreme Court decision blocking the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for large businesses.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Utah Republican officeholders hailed the U.S. Supreme Court decision blocking the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for large businesses as a victory for employers, workers and freedom.

At the same time, they expressed disappointment that the court allowed the requirement for certain health care workers to stand.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee called the ruling on employers a “big win” for Americans, the Constitution and freedom.

“The Supreme Court looked at this and said, ‘Look, Congress hasn’t authorized this,’” he said, adding that it’s the legislative branch’s role to make law.

“They tried to make law through an executive branch agency. Federal bureaucrats don’t have the power to make law. They did here. The Supreme Court shut that down,” Lee said.

Last September, President Joe Biden announced a plan to get more Americans vaccinated and turn the tide in the COVID-19 pandemic. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration followed with a rule requiring employers with 100 or more employees to ensure each of their workers is fully vaccinated or tests negative for the coronavirus at least once a week. Companies that didn’t comply faced fines of nearly $14,000 per violation.

Lee has been one of the most vocal critics of the rule, proposing at least 20 bills to counter the mandate. None of them passed. But the Senate last month narrowly passed a mostly symbolic resolution to overturn the regulation, with two centrists Democrats joining all 50 Republicans.

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority concluded the Biden administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the vaccine-or-test rule on businesses.

“Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly,” the court wrote in an unsigned opinion. “Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category.”

In a dissenting opinion, the court’s three liberal justices wrote that they are wise enough to defer matters like this one to experts.

“When we are wise, we know not to displace the judgments of experts, acting within the sphere Congress marked out and under presidential control, to deal with emergency conditions,” they wrote.

“Today, we are not wise. In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed.”

In a statement, Biden said he was disappointed that the Supreme Court blocked “common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law.”

The president said it’s now up to states and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for their workers and customers during the pandemic. Many companies across the country imposed their own vaccine rules after Biden’s announcement.

Biden said the Supreme Court decision to uphold the vaccine requirement for health care workers will save the lives of the patients, doctors, nurses and others. It covers 10.4 million health care workers at 76,000 medical facilities.

“We will enforce it,” the president said.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes had a mixed reaction to the court’s rulings. The state is party to several lawsuits challenging the vaccine-or-test mandate.

Reyes, a Republican, called the rejection of the OSHA mandate a “true victory” for everyone who believes in the rule of law.

“There is no workaround when it comes to the Constitution — the federal government cannot dictate its policies where it lacks statutory authority. These liberties are not negotiable,” he said in a statement.

Reyes expressed disappointment over the 5-4 decision upholding the rule on health care workers, which applies to providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding. The regulation, imposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, has medical and religious exemptions.

“As the four dissenting justices correctly note, a ‘hodgepodge’ of statutes does not authorize the secretary to force health care workers to undergo a medical procedure,” Reyes said.

“And we share the dissenting justices’ concern that this decision will have a lasting negative impact on future agency decision-making. ... We sympathize with medical workers who deserve to also be protected but will not be after today.”

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, called the court’s ruling on businesses a “major victory” for the economy, the rule of law, and individual liberty.

“The government’s duty is to present the facts, then trust the American people to make their own decisions. @POTUS’ vaccine mandate was an unconstitutional abuse of authority,” he tweeted.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said he was pleased the court blocked Biden’s “overreaching” mandate.

“Americans should be free to make these decisions for themselves and resolve any concerns with their doctors and health care professionals,” he tweeted.

The court’s ruling is a “major win” for businesses and individual freedom, Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, said. “I am proud to have pushed to reverse this mandate with my congressional colleagues as we continue to uphold our constitution’s principles,” he said.