Federal judge blocks Biden's enforcement of COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal employees

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the COVID-19 response and the vaccination program at the White House on Aug. 23, 2021, in Washington, D.C. | JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Just over a week after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for large businesses, a federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal employees Friday. 

Judge Jeffrey Vincent Brown for the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction halting the executive order issued in September requiring that most federal employees and contractors get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Brown, a Trump appointee, argued that President Joe Biden doesn’t have the authority to require federal workers to get vaccinated. Although the judge agreed that Biden does have the authority over federal employment policies, those authorities do not permit him to require the federal workforce to get vaccinated. 

The question before the court was “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,” Brown wrote in the 20-page ruling

“That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far,” Brown, who assumed office in 2019 after serving as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, wrote. 

“The President certainly possesses ‘broad statutory authority to regulate executive branch employment policies. But the Supreme Court has expressly held that a COVID-19 vaccine mandate is not an employment regulation. And that means the President was without statutory authority to issue the federal worker mandate.”

Biden’s order allowed for certain exemptions and excluded members of Congress and employees of the U.S. Postal Service. In principle, individuals who had a valid religious or medical reason were also exempt though some in the U.S. military complained that religious exemptions were nearly impossible to obtain. 

The order also required businesses with over 100 employees require their workers to get vaccinated or submit to regular testing, which was estimated to impact as many as 80 million Americans. But enforcement of the requirement for large businesses was halted by the U.S. Supreme Court last week in a temporary stay. 

“Applicants are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the Secretary lacked authority to impose the mandate,” the Supreme Court ruling stated. “Administrative agencies are creatures of statute. They accordingly possess only the authority that Congress has provided.”

“The Secretary has ordered 84 million Americans to either obtain a COVID–19 vaccine or undergo weekly medical testing at their own expense,” the ruling added. “This is no ‘everyday exercise of federal power.’”

However, the nation’s high court allowed the administration to continue enforcing the requirement for healthcare facilities that wish to participate in Medicare and Medicaid. 

Critics contend that the mandates are examples of federal overreach and failed to adequately respect religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Justice Department said it would appeal Brown’s ruling.

“We are confident in our legal authority,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said during a press briefing Friday. 

The White House has said that over nine out of 10 federal workers had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

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