WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Friday called a rule by the Biden administration requiring major companies to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees “staggeringly overstated” and ordered its implementation to be blocked in a divisive case. probably headed for the Supreme Court.
Companies with 100 or more employees were required under the rule to enforce vaccine or regular testing requirements by Jan. 4 or face fines of nearly $14,000 per violation under an Occupational Safety and Health emergency rule. Administration made public this month.
But the emergency ordinance sparked more than two dozen lawsuits from conservative states and companies questioning whether the federal agency responsible for ensuring workplace safety has the authority to impose requirements to fight a pandemic.
The New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit on Friday blocked implementation of the ordinance after temporarily freezing it over the weekend. Among the plaintiffs: the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.
A panel of three judges called the rule “fatally flawed” and said it “well exceeds OSHA’s legal authority”. The court said “however tragic and devastating” COVID-19 has been, it is not clear that the pandemic poses “the kind of serious danger” envisaged in the statute authorizing the federal agency to regulate workplace safety. .
The decision can be appealed to the Supreme Court. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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The lawsuits focus on whether OSHA has the power under a 1970 law to require companies to ensure that employees are vaccinated or tested. Proponents say the move will reach millions of Americans in the workplace, increasing the number of people vaccinated against the coronavirus. Critics say COVID-19 is not a workplace safety issue and the government’s use of the OHSA Act is an oversight.
“This lawsuit concerns the Biden administration’s latest attempt to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a justification to reconfigure massive sectors of the U.S. economy,” the plaintiffs argued in court documents, alleging that COVID-19 is not within the remit of the Agency. to regulate toxic “agents” or “substances”.
The government went against the “risk mitigation methods” it aims to “protect unvaccinated workers from the most serious health consequences of COVID-19 infection and ‘the overall prevalence’ of the COVID-19 virus” in the workplace. ‘ Reduce.”
The dispute is likely to make its way to the Supreme Court, but the timing of the appeals court proceedings is not yet clear. Federal law provides an unusual procedure for consolidating lawsuits brought against a federal agency for such emergency settlement and for the appeals court, which ultimately rules that the merged case will be arbitrarily chosen.
Biden’s administration had asked the 5th Circuit to hold off on issuing an injunction until the appeals court that will hear the merger case is selected.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected emergency appeals to block enforcement of vaccine mandates in other contexts. In August, it refused to suspend Indiana University’s vaccination requirement. In early October, it rejected New York City’s demand that public school teachers receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
Most recently, late last month, the court refused to block a vaccine mandate for health professionals in Maine over objections that it contained no religious waiver.
Those cases were all about emergency efforts to put mandates on hold, not more fundamental questions about their constitutionality. They were also involved with state and local governments, which have broader public safety powers than the federal government.