A federal appeals court kept its block on the implementation of the Biden administration rule that requires large companies to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees or carry out weekly testing starting in January. The rule, which the court characterized as a “mandate,” goes “staggeringly overboard” and “grossly exceeds [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s] statutory authority,” Judge Kurt Engelhardt wrote in the 22-page ruling that was joined by Judges Edith H. Jones and Stuart Kyle Duncan.
The three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, issued the ruling saying that the challenges to the rule were likely to be successful so it further prevented the government from moving forward with its implementation. The panel is made up of one judge appointed by President Ronald Reagan and two others appointed by President Donald Trump.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed in numerous appeals courts against the rule by businesses, religious organizations, and states. Engelhardt said those who opposed the measure, including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, had standing to sue in the Fifth Circuit. “Rather than a delicately handled scalpel, the mandate is a one-size fits-all sledgehammer,” reads the ruling. The judges said the rule imposes a financial burden and could amount to a violation of the Constitution’s commerce clause. “The Mandate imposes a financial burden upon them by deputizing their participation in OSHA’s regulatory scheme, exposes them to severe financial risk if they refuse or fail to comply, and threatens to decimate their workforces (and business prospects) by forcing unwilling employees to take their shots, take their tests, or hit the road,” the judge wrote.
The judges added that “the mere specter of the mandate has contributed to untold economic upheaval in recent months.” Even though the pandemic is “tragic and devastating” the government has failed to show that COVID-19 “poses the kind of emergency that allows OSHA to take the extreme measure,” the ruling reads. The rule issued by the Biden administration says private employers who have more than 100 employees must require them to get tested or face weekly testing and mandatory mask-wearing. Those who work alone or off-site can be exempted from the rule that was scheduled to take effect Jan. 4.
The Biden administration had expected the legal challenges to the rule and had called on the Fifth Circuit to hold off on issuing a ruling until a lottery can take place that consolidates all the challenges to the measure. “Today’s decision is just the beginning of the process for review of this important OSHA standard,” a Justice Department spokeswoman said in a statement. “The department will continue to vigorously defend the standard and looks forward to obtaining a definitive resolution following consolidation of all of the pending cases for further review.” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the ruling a “massive victory.”