Dec 22, 2021 - Health

Federal judge temporarily blocks Biden vaccine mandate for federal contractors


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A federal judge on Wednesday granted Florida's request for a preliminary injunction against the Biden administration's order requiring federal contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Driving the news: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the lawsuit in October, arguing that the mandate represented a "radical intrusion on the personal autonomy" of U.S. workers.

  • The Republican governor has fought vehemently against public health measures intended to address the toll of the virus in Florida and the lawsuit represented one of multiple attempts by the GOP governor to undermine federal vaccine requirements.

Details: "The extent of any procurement problem, past or future, attributable to COVID-19 is undemonstrated and is merely a hastily manufactured but unproven hypothesis about recent history and a contrived speculation about the future," wrote U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday in Wednesday's 38-page decision, which focused primarily on whether the Biden administration had proved the necessity of the mandate.

  • "Obviously, no massive extension and expansion of presidential power is necessary to cure a non-existent problem and certainly neither ‘good cause’ nor ‘urgent and compelling circumstances’ exists to justify summary disregard of the requirements of administrative law and rulemaking,” added the judge, who serves on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

The other side: The Justice Department argued that the state did not have legal standing to bring the challenge, but Merryday disagreed.

  • “If the federal government awards a contract proposal subject to the executive order, the university’s compliance with the mandatory clause will conflict with the university’s duty to obey state law prohibiting a vaccination requirement.” He was referring to an example cited by the state in the lawsuit that involved federal contracts with the University of Florida.

Of note: A federal judge in Georgia earlier this month temporarily blocked President Biden's vaccine mandate for federal contractors nationwide.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Missouri on Monday granted a similar injunction to the 10 states that had collectively sued.

Context: The executive order, signed in September, goes further than the Biden administration's previously announced policy, which required federal workers to be vaccinated or follow other rigorous safety protocols, including regular testing.

  • "The expectation is if you want to work in the federal government or be a contractor, you need to be vaccinated," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at the time.
  • The vaccine requirement includes exemptions for individuals with disabilities and objections on religious grounds.
  • Biden also extended the mandate to employees of contractors that do business with the federal government.

For the record: The announcement came amid a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations over the summer largely driven by the Delta variant.

What's next: The Supreme Court on Wednesday announced it will hold oral arguments on Jan. 7 to consider legal challenges to Biden's vaccine mandates for health care workers and large companies.

  • It is likely the federal government will ask that the lower court cases involving the objections to the federal contractor requirement be consolidated and heard by a single federal appellate court.
  • The Supreme Court is expected to be the final arbiter to this order as well.
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