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District court blocks COVID-19 vaccine requirement for federal employees

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Galveston, TX — The Biden administration can’t enforce its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal employees, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled in a decision issued Jan. 21.

President Joe Biden signed Executive Order 14043 on Sept. 9. The order initially gave federal employees until Nov. 30 to get vaccinated or obtain an exemption. That deadline was pushed back to the new year. During oral arguments made over the telephone Jan. 13, the two sides “agreed that the soonest any plaintiff might face discipline would be Jan. 21.”

In his decision, Judge Jeffrey Vincent Brown writes that although the court believes in COVID-19 vaccinations and “the federal government’s power, exercised properly, to mandate vaccinations for its employees,” a key question remained. That is “whether the president can, with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment?”

He concludes, in part, that because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision on OSHA’s emergency temporary standard on COVID-19 vaccination, testing and masking, the executive order was “a bridge too far.”

 

Brown also writes that the federal government could apply “less restrictive measures,” such as part- or full-time remote work, masking, and physical distancing.

“The government has not shown that an injunction in this case will have any serious detrimental effect on its fight to stop COVID-19,” the judge writes. “Moreover, any harm to the public interest by allowing federal employees to remain unvaccinated must be balanced against the harm sure to come by terminating unvaccinated workers who provide vital services to the nation.”

Brown also notes that a Dec. 9 press release from the White House states that the lowest vaccination rate among federal employees was 88%.

During a Jan. 21 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that 98% of federal workers are in compliance. “Obviously, we are confident in our legal authority here,” she said.

The Department of Justice has filed an appeal, according to multiple published reports. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans, would have jurisdiction in that appeal.