A federal judge in Texas on Friday halted enforcement of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers.
The preliminary injunction comes months after the White House announced that 95 percent of federal workers had already complied with the mandate.
The mandate was handed down in September. More than 3.5 million federal workers were required to get vaccinated by November 22 — without the option to test-out of the vaccine requirement. Workers could only be exempted from the mandate if they had applicable religious or medical exemptions.
“We are confident in our legal authority,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday in response to the ruling.
Judge Jeffrey Brown ruled that a lawsuit filed by Feds for Medical Freedom was likely to succeed at trial and issued an injunction stopping the government from enforcing the requirement.
“This case is not about whether folks should get vaccinated against COVID-19 — the court believes they should,” Brown wrote in a 20-page ruling. “It is not even about the federal government’s power, exercised properly, to mandate vaccination of its employees. It is instead about 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. That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far.”
The Biden administration told the court that federal employees could be penalized for being unvaccinated beginning January 21. The judge said this put the employees at risk of “imminent harm” which is why he issued an order to halt the policy on the same day.
The decision comes after the Supreme Court temporarily suspended the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers last week. However, the justices allowed a vaccine mandate for health-care workers at facilities that receive federal funding to go into effect.
The ruling relied in part on that decision; the judge said the ruling in NFIB v. OSHA made it clear that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can impose workplace safety standards, but not public health measures.
“Similarly, [the law] authorizes the president to regulate the workplace conduct of executive-branch employees, but not their conduct in general,” Brown wrote. “And in NFIB, the Supreme Court specifically held that COVID-19 is not a workplace risk, but rather a ‘universal risk’ that is ‘no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases.’”
Brown’s order applied to federal civilian employees and does not appear to affect the Defense Department’s vaccine mandate for members of the military.
Meanwhile, the administration’s vaccine requirement for employees of federal contractors was blocked by a federal judge last month.