Healthcare

Federal appeals court upholds Biden vaccine mandate for federal workers

A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled to uphold the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers, ordering that a preliminary injunction issued against the requirement be eliminated.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals’s 2-1 ruling reversed an earlier ruling by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown, a Trump appointee in Texas, who in January blocked the mandate for federal workers. The 5th Circuit Court further ordered that the district court dismiss the case.

Judge Carl Stewart, writing for the majority opinion, said plaintiffs in the case could have challenged the vaccine mandate through the federal government’s internal process for federal workers.

“The plaintiffs could have challenged an agency’s proposed action against them before filing this suit and certainly before getting vaccinated,” the judge wrote.

Biden implemented the mandate for federal workers in September, with religious and medical exemptions allowed. Under the order, non-exempt employees must get vaccinated or they could face disciplinary procedures, including termination.

A group called Feds for Medical Freedom, a 6,000-member organization, sued in December, challenging the order on the grounds that it exceeds the president’s authority. The federal judge in Texas agreed and blocked the mandate in January, but the government appealed to the 5th Circuit.

At issue in the case is whether federal workers can seek relief from discipline through the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA), which protects employees from unfair or unwanted practices. However, the government argues the plaintiffs are trying to circumvent the process, to which Stewart agreed.

“The plaintiffs here seek to avoid discipline for failing to comply with [the executive order],” he wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale said the relief plaintiffs seek does not fall within the CSRA’s jurisdiction, arguing the “case at hand is instead a pre-enforcement challenge to a government-wide policy, imposed by the President, that would affect the 2.1 million federal civilian workers.”

“The President seeks to require an entire class of employees to be vaccinated or be subject to an adverse action. Simply put, CSRA does not cover pre-enforcement employment actions,” Barksdale wrote.

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