NEW ORLEANS – A federal appeals court has declined, for now, to allow the Biden administration to require COVID-19 vaccinations for federal employees.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled 2-1 Wednesday to maintain a block on the mandate that a Texas-based federal judge had issued on Jan. 21. The administration had asked the New Orleans court for an injunction allowing the federal worker mandate to move forward pending appeal.
President Joe Biden announced in September that more than 3.5 million federal workers were required to undergo vaccination, with no option to get regularly tested instead, unless they secured approved medical or religious exemptions. The requirement kicked in this past November. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last month that 98% of federal workers are vaccinated.
Judge Jeffrey Brown, who was appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of Texas by then-President Donald Trump, issued an injunction against the requirement last month, saying the Biden administration exceeded its authority.
The 5th Circuit panel's order didn't address the merits of the case. It was a brief order by judges Jerry Smith and Don Willett putting off a decision on whether to lift the injunction pending further proceedings, and ordering the expedited filing of briefs.
Judge Stephen Higginson issued a 10-page dissent noting that a dozen other district judges had declined to block the rule. Higginson said many private businesses had adopted vaccine mandates, adding "the public interest is not served by a single ... district judge, lacking public health expertise and made unaccountable through life tenure, telling the President of the United States, in his capacity as CEO of the federal workforce, that he cannot take the same lifesaving workplace safety measures as these private sector CEOs.”
Smith was nominated to the 5th Circuit by President Ronald Reagan; Willett, by Trump; and Higginson, by President Barack Obama.