Trump-appointed judge suspends Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors

Trump-appointed judge suspends Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors
President Joe Biden, joined by Counselor to the President and White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients, receives a briefing from Director of the NIH Dr. Francis Collins and Chief Medical Adviser to the President and Director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, at the Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

A federal judge appointed by former President Donald Trump on Tuesday issued a nationwide injunction against the Biden administration's Covid-19 vaccine mandate for employees of federal contractors.

All three of President Joe Biden's vaccination requirements covering the private sector—the mandates for federal contractors and staff at healthcare facilities funded by Medicare or Medicaid plus the jab-or-test rule at large companies—are now frozen across the country as a result of numerous right-wing legal challenges.

In a 28-page ruling, U.S. Judge R. Stan Baker of the Southern District of Georgia argued—as the nation's Covid-19 death toll approached 800,000—that Biden likely exceeded his constitutional authority by requiring federal contractors' employees to be fully vaccinated by January 18.

Enforcement of the rule had already been halted in Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee by another federal judge, but Baker's order—which comes in response to a lawsuit filed by seven GOP-led states—prevents the Biden administration from enforcing its vaccine mandate for federal contractors anywhere in the country while the case unfolds in court.

Although it was praised by public health experts who have emphasized the need to boost inoculation rates to overcome the ongoing pandemic, Biden's September executive order establishing vaccination requirements for more than 100 million private sector workers has faced a barrage of lawsuits from Republican officials.

After Biden announced last month that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would soon begin enforcing a lifesaving Emergency Temporary Standard that includes vaccination, testing, and mask-wearing rules at companies with 100 or more workers, several attorneys general sued.

In response, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit—which Trump pushed in an even more conservative direction by appointing numerous far-right judges—issued a temporary injunction. While the Department of Justice stressed in its appeal that the Labor Department has the legal authority to protect workers amid a deadly public health emergency, the panel upheld its stay.

As a result, OSHA has suspended enforcement of the rule, pending further legal developments. At least 34 related lawsuits have been filed, many by GOP-led states, in federal appeals courts across the nation. A federal judicial panel has consolidated the lawsuits and randomly assigned the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. That court has a Republican majority, though it remains unclear which judges will hear the case.

In the meantime—and ahead of an anticipated spike in Covid-19 cases this winter, as colder weather forces people to spend more time indoors and breakthrough infections become more common due to waning immunity—medical professionals have urged employers to swiftly implement Biden's contested vaccine rules on a voluntary basis.

Recent studies confirm that vaccines save lives. In September, researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that individuals in the U.S. who were not fully vaccinated last spring and summer were 11 times more likely to die after being infected with the coronavirus—and over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized—than those who had been completely inoculated.

According to Bloomberg Law, "Baker echoed what his Kentucky counterpart said, that blocking the mandate didn't indicate that the vaccine wouldn't be effective to stopping the spread of Covid-19, but rather that Biden didn't have the power to issue such an executive order."

In response to the latest setback, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that "the reason that we proposed these requirements is that we know they work, and we are confident in our ability, legally, to make these happen across the country."

Roughly 76% of the U.S. population over five years of age has been fully inoculated against Covid-19, according to the CDC. Recent polling shows that a majority of U.S. adults favor Covid-19 vaccination requirements, with only about one-fifth to one-quarter of respondents opposed.

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