Judge blocks COVID vaccine mandate for federal employees

AstraZeneca vaccine oasisamuel/Shutterstock

A federal judge on Friday issued a preliminary injunction against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal employees.

Judge Jeffrey Brown of the District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled Jan. 21 that federal employees were likely to succeed in challenging the vaccine requirement. 

“The court notes at the outset that this case is not about whether folks should get vaccinated against COVID-19—the court believes they should,” the decision reads. “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,” the decision continues. “That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far.”

Brown wrote that “Regardless of what the conventional wisdom may be concerning vaccination, no legal remedy adequately protects the liberty interests of employees who must choose between violating a mandate of doubtful validity or consenting to an unwanted medical procedure that cannot be undone.”

The Justice Department immediately appealed the ruling. The White House has said that 98% of federal employees are vaccinated. 

“Obviously we are confident in our legal authority here,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Jan. 21.

President Joe Biden issued the vaccine mandate for millions of federal employees in September, though enforcement of the mandate was delayed until early 2022.

Employees could not agree to regular testing for the virus as an alternative to the vaccine, though they could seek out medical or religious exemptions. Employees who failed to comply with the mandate risked losing their jobs. 

Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors has already been suspended. 

Last week, the Supreme Court blocked Biden’s vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees. The court allowed a federal rule requiring millions of U.S. health care workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

In its December 2020 Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.”

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