A Texas court issued an injunction blocking the government from enforcing President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees.
In his decision issued on January 21, 2022, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey V. Brown said that it was not about whether or not the COVID vaccines can help save lives but instead was about the president wielding that much power through a single executive order on federal employees. Brown wrote:
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. 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. That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far.Feds for Medical Freedom v. Joseph Biden No. 3:21-cv-356
The Supreme Court recently struck down the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for large private businesses, a mandate which impacted the Postal Service. The court case blocking the federal employee vaccine mandate cited the Supreme Court decision as part of the basis for its decision.
Brown noted in his decision that the Supreme Court concluded that “…COVID-19 is not a workplace risk, but rather a “universal risk” that is “no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases.”
He added, “Applying that same logic to the President’s authority under § 7301 means he cannot require civilian federal employees to submit to the vaccine as a condition of employment.”
The Justice Department has already said it will file an appeal of the decision. “Obviously, we are confident in our legal authority here,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, adding that 98% of federal employees are in compliance with the vaccine mandate, having either been fully vaccinated or were seeking an exemption.
What Does This Mean for Federal Employees?
It is important to note that the court’s decision is not a final ruling on the vaccine mandate; rather, it blocks the mandate from being enforced while the litigation is pending.
This is timely for any impacted federal employees because agencies had indicated that harsher penalties would soon be forthcoming for non-complaint federal employees. At least for the time being, this injunction prevents the government from disciplining federal employees who are not in compliance with the vaccine mandate.
President Biden issued the federal employee vaccine mandate last September. He also issued an Executive Order at the same time requiring vaccinations for federal contractors; the courts blocked that mandate as well.
The deadline for federal employees to get fully vaccinated had previously been November 22, 2021. The government then said that agencies should wait until after the holidays to begin enforcing the vaccine mandate via harsher penalties.
Weekly COVID testing is set to begin for unvaccinated federal employees on February 15, so conceivably it might have been around this time that more serious disciplinary measures could have begun for any unvaccinated federal workers.
Position from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force
The Task Force issued an update confirming that the Biden administration will not attempt to enforce the federal employee vaccine mandate to comply with the court’s injunction. It noted, however, that other COVID safety protocols based on one’s vaccination status remain in effect.
To ensure compliance with an applicable preliminary nationwide injunction, which may be supplemented, modified, or vacated, depending on the course of ongoing litigation, the Federal Government will take no action to implement or enforce the COVID-19 vaccination requirement pursuant to Executive Order 14043 on Requiring Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccination for Federal Employees. Safer Federal Workforce Task Force guidance on other Federal agency safety protocols based on vaccination status—including guidance on protocols related to masking, distancing, travel, testing, and quarantine—remains in effect.Safer Federal Workforce Task Force – January 22, 2022
Whether the federal employee vaccine mandate will survive the remainder of the legal process remains to be seen, but at least for the time being, the courts have blocked the government from enforcing it.