Stone Washington
Controversial vaccine mandates put the Solicitor General’s institutional influence to the test
FacebookTwitterGoogle+
By Stone Washington
January 31, 2022

The United States Solicitor General (SG) operates as the focal point of facilitating smooth relations between a sitting President and the Supreme Court. As fourth in command at the Department of Justice, the Solicitor General is tasked with representing the federal government in virtually every case brought before the Supreme Court. The Solicitor General operates as the primary representor and defender of executive branch policies before the Court, with a history of heightened success in winning the majority of cases he participates in a given year. This is largely attributed to the Solicitor General’s reputable institutional influence (which scholars term as a “built-in advantage”), which grants the SG the advantage of wielding extensive governmental resources, specialized legal expertise, respect from the Court, and reputable status within the Department of Justice to represent the various interests of the executive branch. Because of the Solicitor General’s important functions and positional prestige, the Supreme Court also relies on their expert judgement in cases where the government is not a direct party, allowing the SG to submit amicus curiae (“friend of the Court”) briefs on behalf of the President, an administrative agency, or a concerned member of Congress.

As a “repeat player” who frequently appears before the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General’s success rate is virtually unmatched when compared to nongovernmental litigants. Despite this, there are instances, even in cases bearing great political significance, where the Solicitor General often loses. A recent example can be seen with the Biden Administration’s notable loss in the case of National Federation of Independent Business vs. OSHA (2022), where the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) emergency rule forcing businesses with more than 100 employees to ensure workers are vaccinated or else administer weekly Covid tests, was struck down by the Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision, rendered along ideological lines. If upheld, the OSHA mandate would have impacted more than 80 million workers. In the case, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar relied on the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 as a defense for OSHA’s perceived authority to regulate the workplace for preventing the spread of Covid-19.

Prelogar argued that this Act grants OSHA the ability to impose rules that prevent further spread of an infectious disease, while best ensuring that businesses prevent further loss of life through mandatory employee vaccination. The Court issued a rare rebuke to arguments presented by the Solicitor General in defense of a direct agency action sanctioned by Congressional statute, generally an area in which the Court is deferential to the actions taken by the government operating within its sphere of influence. While Prelogar, acknowledged that OSHA is limited to regulating only “work-related” dangers, her argument that the risk of contracting Covid-19 constituted such a prevalent danger in workplace environments was completely denied by the Court, which ruled that the virus was not an occupational hazard existent in most workplaces.


Link to Solicitor General’s oral argument: https://www.c-span.org/video/?516920-1/supreme-court-oral-argument-Covid-19-vaccine-mandate-large-employers

In its per curiam opinion, the Court’s reasoning behind rejecting the government’s stance was that OSHA’s actions we inconsistent with the authority originally granted to it by Congress, intending for OSHA to regulate only hazards restricted to the workplace setting. The ongoing threat posed by Covid-19 was universal, designated as one of the many “day-to-day dangers that all face,” no different from crime, air pollution or various other airborne illnesses. According to the Court, “permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life—simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock—would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.”

The vaccine mandate that OSHA imposed was unlike the usual, and often temporary, workplace regulations enforced by the agency; once injected, a vaccine cannot be undone, and it went well beyond the scope of what OSHA was created for when it sought to have 84 million Americans vaccinated in response to a global pandemic. Despite this, the Court did believe that federal healthcare researchers and workers who engage with Covid-19 on a regular basis should be confined to abiding by such regulations.

This reasoning motivated the Court to issue a parallel ruling on the same day in Biden v. Missouri that permitted a vaccination mandate from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for health-care employees working at 76,000 federally funded facilities. The Court found that vaccinations against a host of other diseases were generally mandatory for healthcare workers across the nation, and that such a requirement for Covid-19 was permissible for preventing its infectious spread among federal healthcare officials.

While the outcome of the Biden v. Missouri case represents how the Solicitor General is largely successful in defending the institutional actions of the federal government when an executive branch cabinet member operates within the scope of their defined or implied powers, the NFIB v. OSHA case revealed the limits of the Solicitor General’s ability to influence the Court to permit agency action when OSHA sought to operate beyond the confines of its statutory authority. The OSHA case presents a strong defense against governmental overreach to mitigate a public viral threat in a private corporate setting, insulating such entities from adherence to overtly broad and invasive vaccine mandates. These parallel cases provide unique insight into both the success of the Solicitor General’s institutional influence with the Court and its ever-present limitations on defending governmental dominion over private affairs.

© Stone Washington

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

Click to enlarge

Stone Washington

Stone Washington is a second year PhD student in the Policy Studies Program at Clemson University Graduate School. Stone is employed as a Research Assistant in the Legal Policy Department at the Manhattan Institute, where he recently completed the Collegiate Associate Program. He is also employed as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in Clemson's Department of Political Science and serves as a WAC Fellow for the Pearce Center for Professional Communication. Stone is a recent addition to the Steamboat Institute's Emerging Leaders Council.... (more)

Subscribe

Receive future articles by Stone Washington: Click here

More by this author

August 30, 2022
The Grapes of Wrath—How America’s former depression reflects America’s imminent recession


July 31, 2022
Rescuing the right to life: The aftermath of abortion rights in America


June 29, 2022
America under siege and the historic invasion at the border


May 25, 2022
Redeeming Twitter, exposing liberal censorship, and the fight for free speech


March 4, 2022
From energy independence to energy crisis: How American oil production has suffered under Biden


January 31, 2022
Controversial vaccine mandates put the Solicitor General’s institutional influence to the test


December 31, 2021
Defying convention to supersede the realm of possibility: Omega’s impact on time


December 4, 2021
Honoring “Chief” Justice Thomas’s thirty years of service on the U.S. Supreme Court


October 19, 2021
Revisiting the exciting travels of Marco Polo—850 years later, Part II


September 14, 2021
Reflections on Biden’s failure in Afghanistan, the Trump foreign policy of strength, and the 20th anniversary of 9/11


More articles

 

Stephen Stone
A Prayer for America

Siena Hoefling
Protect the Children: Update with VIDEO

Stephen Stone
Flashback: Dems' fake claim that Trump and Utah congressional hopeful Burgess Owens want 'renewed nuclear testing' blows up when examined

Jerry Newcombe
Is the church in America dying?

Tom DeWeese
Think your vote doesn’t count?? Here’s why it does, and why it will be the most important one you’ve ever cast

Linda Kimball
The West’s greatest threat: doctrines of demons and the modern pagan and pantheist antithesis of the word of God

Matt C. Abbott
The post-‘Roe’ cultural backlash

Tom DeWeese
The ideal Communist American city

Michael Bresciani
Prophecy and the 2022 midterm elections

Steve A. Stone
Women’s rights demonstrations in Iran? I’m not buying it

Rev. Mark H. Creech
Revelation Chapter 4: The Rapture question

Curtis Dahlgren
Do you feel safer than you did in the 1950s?

Steve A. Stone
Want to understand more about voting machine vulnerabilities?

Jerry Newcombe
Are the 'Woke' the new Pharisees?

Steve A. Stone
My thoughts about human composting
  More columns

Cartoons


Click for full cartoon
More cartoons

RSS feeds

News:
Columns:

Columnists

Matt C. Abbott
Chris Adamo
Russ J. Alan
Bonnie Alba
Chuck Baldwin
Kevin J. Banet
J. Matt Barber
Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
. . .
[See more]

Sister sites