Federal Employee Vaccine Mandate Upheld by Appeals Court

A federal appeals court has upheld President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal employees.

A federal appeals court has upheld President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees, and the Justice Department is pushing the court to allow the Biden administration to begin immediate enforcement.

In a 2-1 ruling, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling which had placed an injunction on the federal employee vaccine mandate (Feds for Medical Freedom v. Biden, 22-40043). The court said in its decision that U.S. District Judge Jeffrey V. Brown did not have jurisdiction in the case and those challenging the vaccine mandate could have pursued administrative remedies under Civil Service law.

The original lawsuit against the vaccine mandate, Feds for Medical Freedom v. Biden, challenged Executive Order 14043 in federal court, arguing that the president exceeded his authority by issuing the vaccine mandate via the Executive Order. The lawsuit sought an injunction against the mandate which was granted by the lower court.

The Biden administration appealed the decision, and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately sided with the administration. The injunction has been in place since January, but as a result of the new court decision, enforcement of the vaccine mandate could resume again soon.

Prior to the injunction against the federal employee vaccine mandate being issued by the lower court, the federal government had announced it would begin enforcing harsher penalties for federal employees that were in violation of the vaccine mandate shortly after the start of 2022.

However, when the Texas court issued the injunction, the government was forced to halt enforcement and began issuing guidance telling agencies how to proceed with enforcing the vaccine mandate after the court’s injunction. Presumably, new guidance will be forthcoming from the Biden administration with details on how agencies should proceed with enforcing the federal employee vaccine mandate in light of the latest court decision which upheld the mandate.

The Washington Post reported that the White House told federal agencies late last week to hold off on reinstating the vaccine mandate for federal employees, saying that “there are still procedural steps that need to take place to lift the injunction; at this time the district court’s preliminary injunction remains in effect.”

However, on Monday, April 11, the Justice Department asked the appeals court to allow the Biden administration to immediately resume enforcement of the vaccine mandate.

According to Reuters, DOJ told the court that the order allowing enforcement should be issued immediately because it is “justified by the serious ongoing harm to the public interest and to the government.”

The Biden administration said at the time when the court injunction was issued that 98% of federal employees were in compliance with the president’s vaccine mandate.

Feds for Medical Freedom could appeal the case further, and it could still eventually wind up before the Supreme Court. The group posted a tweet shortly after the appeals court decision was released which said, “The appeals court, by a 2-1 vote, vacated the injunction against the federal civilian employee mandate. We have the right to ask the entire court (17 judges) to overrule that decision. As of now, the injunction is still in place despite the appeals court decision.”

Feds for Medical Freedom also posted this message on its Facebook page on April 7:

The decision today is kind of an odd one, because the injunction was not actually removed. And the panel did not make this decision based on any of arguments necessarily, they simply said they do not have the authority to weigh in on this issue. The next step in the appeals process would be to move this to the “En banc”(full 5th circuit panel), or SCOTUS if the circuit denied our request.

The Supreme Court recently ruled on vaccine mandate cases in which it struck down a mandate for large businesses but upheld a vaccine mandate for most healthcare workers.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.