On behalf of the Biden administration, the U.S. Justice Department recently asked a federal appeals court to allow the president to once again enforce a federal employee vaccine mandate. This mandate had been blocked by a lower court judge in January.
This move caused a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel last week to reinstate the president’s executive order that mandated all federal civilian employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Last week, Biden’s administration told all federal agencies that they must continue to not take action to implement or enforce COVID-19 vaccination requirements until they had cleared the process with the court system.
But then on Monday of this week, the Justice Department summoned an appeals court to take “appropriate steps so that the government may resume implementation and enforcement” of President Joe Biden’s executive order.
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They put pressure on the appeals court to issue their order quickly so that the ruling would take effect and allow the mandated vaccinations. The Justice Department argued that this was “justified by the serious ongoing harm to the public interest and to the government.”
Last September, President Biden said that he would require a total of 3.5 million government workers to get vaccinated by November 22nd. This would not include those who had a religious or medical reason. But for those who did not and refused to be vaccinated, would face the discipline of being fired.
The U.S. Court for the Southern District of Texas issued an injunction against Biden’s mandated vaccination. It ruled that the president exceeded his authority by issuing it. Judge Jerry Brown explained that the case was not about whether people should be vaccinated but “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 […] is a bridge too far”.
Biden’s administration also argued that the federal trial court did not have the legal power to hear the dispute. They said that any employees who disagreed with the mandate should have to raise their grievances through the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA).
The appeals panel with a 2-1 majority said that the plaintiffs had tried to go around the Civil Service Reform Act’s “exclusive review scheme.”
The White House has reported that more than 93% of federal employees have received at least one vaccination and that 98% have been vaccinated or are seeking a religious or medical exemption.
It was in mid-January that the United States Supreme Court blocked the president’s COVID-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses. This is the case that Judge Brown based his recent ruling on. He said he applied the same logic to the president’s authority and that the Supreme Court’s case showed that the president could not require civilian federal employees to submit to the vaccine as a condition for their employment.
But the High Court did allow for a federal vaccine requirement for healthcare facilities.
In December, a federal judge blocked a major vaccine mandate for employees of federal contractors including airlines and manufacturers.
A spokesperson for the White House Office of Management and Budget said after the appeal court’s ruling that based on the prior implementation of the mandate, we know that vaccination requirements save lives and “strengthen our ability to serve the American people.”
But Judge Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale wrote in a dissenting opinion from the Circuit Court that the president was “attempting to impose a sweeping mandate against the federal civilian workforce. … The President seeks to require an entire class of employees to be vaccinated or be subject to an adverse action.” She does not believe that the CSRA allows for this unilateral action from Biden.