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Biden’s vaccine mandates hit legal roadblocks

Flurry of rulings challenge authority of federal agencies

A pharmacist prepares a syringe of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Queen Anne Healthcare in Seattle. Associated Press/Photo by Ted S. Warren, file

Biden’s vaccine mandates hit legal roadblocks

The Biden administration has had to hit the brakes on COVID-19 vaccination requirements for several groups of Americans. On Nov. 29, a federal judge temporarily blocked a mandate for healthcare workers in 10 states.

Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming challenged the directive issued by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The agency could have enforced the rule by withholding funding from places that didn’t comply, which would effectively cripple the average U.S. hospital. The mandate allowed for religious and medical exemptions.

“CMS seeks to overtake an area of traditional state authority by imposing an unprecedented demand to federally dictate the private medical decisions of millions of Americans,” wrote U.S. District Judge Matthew T. Schelp, a 2019 appointee of President Donald Trump. “The mandate portends a disaster for the healthcare industry, particularly in rural communities.”

The Biden administration is appealing the ruling.

While Schelp’s ruling only applies to the 10 plaintiff states in the lawsuit, a federal judge in Louisiana was not so restrained. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Nov. 30 blocked the CMS vaccine mandate nationwide, reasoning that “a nationwide injunction is necessary due to the need for uniformity’’ given unvaccinated healthcare workers in every state.

The mandate hit two other challenges. A Florida district court judge rejected one of the lawsuits, and the state has appealed. Another lawsuit has been filed in Texas, even though at this point Doughty’s pause on enforcement covers all states.

The Supreme Court will likely need to step in to resolve the dispute over the CMS rule. But for now, enforcement has ground to a halt: CMS issued a memo Thursday suspending it because of the court orders.

That does not mean all healthcare workers are off the hook. Some states—such as Maine, New York, and Rhode Island—have issued their own vaccine mandates. These directives often don’t have a religious exemption, and so far, challenges to them have been unsuccessful.

Last month, the Supreme Court let the Maine directive stand. Healthcare workers, represented by Liberty Counsel, asked the court for an expedited review of their petition. On Nov. 12, attorneys also asked the justices for emergency relief on behalf of New York healthcare workers who were precluded from seeking a religious exemption. The court has not yet ruled on the request.

The rulings against the healthcare worker requirement follow a successful challenge to another Biden administration mandate that would have imposed a vaccine and testing regime on all private businesses with 100 or more employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has suspended enforcement while a federal appeals court considers lawsuits consolidated from all over the country.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove also temporarily blocked the administration’s shot mandate for federal contractors at the request of attorneys general in Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee. He cast the issue as one of executive power authority. “Can the president use congressionally delegated authority to manage the federal procurement of goods and services to impose vaccines on the employees of federal contractors and subcontractors?” he asked. “In all likelihood, the answer to that question is no.”

Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C.



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