The United States Senate voted 52-48 Wednesday against mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees at large companies, health care facilities, and those who are federal contractors. The measures have been struck down in various federal courts in recent weeks, with ruling judges concerned about the constitutionality of the Executive Branch issuing the requirements.
Terry Doughty is a federal judge for the Western District of Louisiana. He issued a nationwide injunction at the end of November against the mandate being imposed by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He wrote in his opinion, “If the executive branch is allowed to usurp the power of the legislative branch to make laws, two of the three powers conferred by our Constitution would be in the same hands.” Doughty added, “If human nature and history teach anything, it is that civil liberties face grave risks when governments proclaim indefinite states of emergency.”
The vote in the Senate was bipartisan. Democrats Joe Manchin, from West Virginia, and Jon Tester, hailing from Montana, joined all 50 Republicans against the measure. It most likely ends vaccine mandates as potential federal policy in the fight against COVID-19.
After the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Occupational and Health Safety Administration (OSHA) mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees, the agency announced that it would not try to continue to pursue the measure. Private companies are still free to mandate employees be vaccinated, but many are relenting in the wake of court rulings.
HCA Healthcare is one of the largest private hospital networks in the country. It put out a statement after Doughty’s opinion, “Because recent federal court decisions have resulted in the CMS mandate being put on hold indefinitely, we have paused our vaccine requirement, except in states that have mandated vaccination. HCA hinted that a significant portion of its workforce had not yet been immunized, “We continue to strongly encourage our colleagues to be vaccinated as a critical step to protect individuals from the virus and the majority of HCA Healthcare colleagues have been fully vaccinated.” With a labor shortage already roiling several industries, many companies are finding it impossible to justify letting go those already on staff.
The situation is similar in the public sector. States have the power to compel vaccinations among residents, but Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer came out against the mandates before the vote by the Senate. Michigan Tech has already announced it is pausing implementation measures as well.