US President Joe Biden had little choice but to book his most recent defeat as at least a partial success. His success: The Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, had ruled on Thursday evening that Biden’s government may indeed impose compulsory vaccinations on the job for a good ten million people who work in those parts of the health system that are supported with money from the state. “This decision will save lives,” Biden wrote in an official White House statement.
The defeat: Biden had to accept that the Supreme Court had also rejected compulsory vaccination for more than 80 million Americans who work in companies with more than 100 employees.
Biden had planned this initiative as a decisive advance in the fight against the increasingly rapid spread of the omicron variant of the corona virus. He wanted to have two options for employees in larger companies. Either they have a full vaccination against the virus, or they get tested once a week and wear a mask at work.
The government had deliberately given this campaign the right to exemptions because many people in the USA do not want to be vaccinated for a variety of reasons. For example, the ordinance provided for exceptions for religious reasons and for people who mainly work outdoors. In addition, the employees unwilling to vaccinate did not have to pay for the weekly tests themselves. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court rejected the initiative by six to three votes.
This means that the six judges who were nominated by the Republican Party voted unanimously against the three who were nominated by the Democrats. For many observers, the case is another example of how the ideological split in the United States extends to the Supreme Court.
However, the nine judges surprisingly decided differently on a government application that was also pending. With five to four votes, the court allowed vaccination in large parts of the health care system. Conservative Justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh voted with the Liberal minority in court.
Biden welcomed this second decision. He regretted that he had suffered defeat in the more important decision about compulsory vaccination in larger companies. “I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block life-saving measures in larger companies that are common sense and based on law and science.” The court, on the other hand, saw compulsory vaccination as too great an encroachment on the personal freedom of citizens.
The corona numbers in the USA are still not good. According to a survey by the New York Times, 1,800 people die every day as a result of the disease; according to the newspaper, there are more than 840,000 corona deaths so far. Only 63 percent of the United States population is considered fully vaccinated, and 75 percent have received a dose of a vaccine.
These numbers vary dramatically from state to state. In the Republican-dominated states in the south of the country and in some states in the mid-northwest, such as North Dakota or South Dakota, the willingness to get vaccinated is extremely low. In northeastern states such as Vermont or Maine or Rhode Island, on the other hand, it is even difficult to find unvaccinated people. These states tend towards the Democrats.
The fact that Biden has now lost at least the main part before the Supreme Court does not mean, however, that employees unwilling to vaccinate are immune from the consequences. Several US companies had already announced before the ruling that they would implement the government’s requirements regardless of the ruling by the Supreme Court.
The banking company Citigroup is arguably the most radical of these. It informed its employees that they would either have to be vaccinated by January 14th or that they would be given unpaid leave until the end of the month – if they were still not vaccinated, they would be fired.
The good news is that the wave of new infections with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus appears to be flattening out in the United States. This coincides with the data from South Africa and the United Kingdom, where the variant had spread earlier.