The Biden administration’s order for federal employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 was blocked by a federal appeals court Thursday, with the ruling instructing parties to consider the White House’s announcement that the pandemic emergency is coming to an end.
The majority of the 16 full-time judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit rejected the argument that President Joe Biden had the same authority as the CEO of a private business to require employees to be vaccinated, sending the case down to a lower court that imposed a preliminary injunction in January 2022 blocking the mandate.
Judge Andrew Oldham, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, wrote for the majority in the 89-page opinion that “both sides will have to grapple with the White House’s announcement that the COVID emergency will finally end on May 11, 2023.”
Opponents of the vaccine mandates argued the federal government violated workers’ autonomy by requiring at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, while proponents said it would aid in keeping workplaces free from the spread of the virus.
At least 12 challenges were filed in U.S. district courts against Biden’s federal worker vaccine mandate announced in September 2021, which kicked in the following November. But one lawsuit led to a nationwide injunction against the requirement in January 2022 by District Judge Jeffrey Brown, who was appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of Texas by Trump.
Brown’s ruling prompted the government’s appeal to the 5th Circuit. The full court voted Thursday to vacate a previous 2-1 decision by the 5th Circuit that reversed the lower court injunction and upheld the Biden administration’s mandate.
The Thursday opinion noted the Civil Service Reform Act, which is typically used to handle personnel disputes, usually bars courts from jurisdiction over employee claims. However, this court’s majority held that requests to opt out of the vaccine stray from typical personnel decisions handled by CSRA.
Additionally, the majority wrote that vaccines are both “private” and “irreversible” medical decisions.
Judge Stephen Higginson, a nominee of former President Barack Obama, authored the main dissenting opinion, saying, “For the wrong reasons, our court correctly concludes that we do have jurisdiction.”
“But contrary to a dozen federal courts — and having left a government motion to stay the district court’s injunction pending for more than a year — our court still refuses to say why the President does not have the power to regulate workplace safety for his employees.”