A federal judge in Texas has ruled that President Joe Biden cannot require federal employees to be vaccinated as a term of employment or disciplined for failing to comply. The mandate impacted roughly 3.5 million people across the nation and insisted that all workers be vaccinated or face punishment, barring a religious or medical exemption.
Judge Jeffrey Brown, a Trump appointee, said the question was whether Biden could “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.”
To examine what this ruling means for federal workers and the Biden administration, we sat down with Liberty Nation’s Legal Affairs Editor, Scott D. Cosenza Esq.
Mark Angelides: In simple terms, what does this ruling mean for those employed by the federal government?
Scott D. Cosenza: It means for the moment, they can remain unvaccinated and not be dismissed from their employment. The injunction will almost certainly be appealed, so while those employees have immediate relief from the threat of firing, they are far from safe in their jobs.
MA: And what about those workers who have already been fired or chose to quit rather than be vaccinated? Do they have any recourse?
SDC: Judge Brown’s ruling did not address any of those cases. People who resigned of their own accord will not likely see relief.
MA: This ruling came from a judge in Texas. Will it be challenged by other courts, or will other jurisdictions override it?
SDC: This ruling institutes a nationwide injunction. Since Texas lies within the fifth judicial circuit, the first stop to challenge it would be the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That court is perhaps the most conservative federal appeals court. I don’t expect to see Judge Brown’s ruling overturned there. The next stop is the Supreme Court and a far less predictable outcome. Just last week, the high court disallowed one vaccine covering private employers and allowed another for healthcare workers who take federal funds.
MA: Aren’t nationwide injunctions something that conservatives usually oppose?
SDC: Yes! Federal judges issued so many of these against the Trump administration. Justice Thomas and even Chief Justice Roberts mentioned them directly and derisively in separate opinions. Judge Brown mentions these criticisms of similar injunctions in his opinion and goes out of his way to justify his issuance of one in this case. He wrote:
“But it does not seem that tailoring relief is practical in this case. The lead plaintiff, Feds for Medical Freedom, has more than 6,000 members spread across every state and in nearly every federal agency, and is actively adding new members. The court fears that “limiting the relief to only those before [it] would prove unwieldy and would only cause more confusion. So, ‘on the unique facts before it,’ the court believes the best course is ‘to issue an injunction with nationwide applicability.'”
MA: President Biden seems to be facing defeat after defeat in applying vaccine mandates. Does he return to the drawing board and try to craft ones that will not be so challenged? Or is this the writing on the wall that what he wants just can’t be done?
SDC: I think if they went back and wrote somewhat narrow mandates rather than these massively broad ones, courts would be more likely to allow them. Perhaps Biden’s brain trust will try that to claim some partial win. Judge Brown took time in his opinion to repeat the plaintiff’s point that this mandate covers even workers who are employed entirely remotely. In response, he wrote, “Stopping the spread of COVID-19 will not be achieved by overbroad policies like the federal-worker mandate.”
MA: What about private businesses, Scott. Now that the first mandate has been struck down for now by the Supreme Court, and this federal mandate is under an injunction, if a private company wants to mandate vaccine status for its employees, can it do so without legal challenge?
SDC: This has nothing to do with private employers acting as they choose, only government imposition of vaccine policies. Brown even says the federal government may be able to mandate vaccination by its employees, just not by the whim and stroke of Joe Biden’s pen.