Biden blocked from ordering government workers to get shots in latest Covid setback

·3 min read

A Texas federal judge appointed by former President Donald Trump has issued an order blocking the federal government from requiring employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

The 20-page order by US District Judge Jeffrey Vincent Brown enjoins the federal government from enforcing an executive order signed by President Joe Biden on 9 September, which ordered federal agencies to establish “a programme to require Covid-19 vaccination for all of its Federal employees, with exceptions only as required by law”.

Mr Biden’s order, the judge wrote, “amounts to a presidential mandate that all federal employees consent to vaccination against Covid-19 or lose their jobs”.

“Because the president’s authority is not that broad, the court will enjoin the ... order’s enforcement.”

Judge Brown, a former Texas Supreme Court justice who former president Donald Trump named to the federal bench in September 2019, wrote that the case brought by an anti-vaccine group called “Feds for Medical Freedom” was not about whether anyone should be vaccinated against Covid-19, adding that he personally believes people should be.

He also wrote that the case was not about whether the federal government can mandate vaccination of employees if its power is “exercised properly”.

“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. That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far,” he added.

Continuing, Judge Brown explained that he based his ruling on the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down an Occupational Safety and Health Administration emergency order requiring companies with more than 100 workers to ensure that their employees are vaccinated against Covid-19.

“Applying that same logic to the President’s authority ... means he cannot require civilian federal employees to submit to the vaccine as a condition of employment,” he wrote.

While the federal government had argued that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case because no federal employee has yet been fired for refusing to be vaccinated, the Trump-appointed judge found that the government had pushed a legal doctrine known as ripeness “too far” because “at least some” of the plaintiffs faced the inevitability of being fired because they “not only declined to assert any exemption but ... also submitted affidavits swearing they will not”.

“The court takes them at their word,” he wrote.

Judge Brown added that he was not ruling on whether the federal employee mandate was “lawful” but was issuing the injunction because he believed the plaintiffs would have a likelihood success on the merits of their case because laws governing the US civil service do not give the president the authority to mandate vaccination.

While he conceded that the government “has an undeniable interest in protecting the public against Covid-19,” he said it “has not shown that an injunction in this case will have any serious detrimental effect on its fight to stop” the coronavirus because most federal employees are already vaccinated.

“While vaccines are undoubtedly the best way to avoid serious illness from Covid-19, there is no reason to believe that the public interest cannot be served via less restrictive measures than the mandate, such as masking, social distancing, or part- or full-time remote work,” he wrote. “Stopping the spread of Covid-19 will not be achieved by overbroad policies like the federal-worker mandate”.

The Independent has contacted the White House for comment