The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Thursday blocked President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal employees. The decision came from an en banc rehearing of the appeal, which was previously decided in favor of the government by a three-judge panel of the same court.
The case turned on the central issue of whether courts have subject matter jurisdiction over pre-enforcement challenges to Executive Order (EO) 14043, Biden’s vaccination mandate for federal employees. The government argued that the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA) denied courts the jurisdiction to hear this matter. After reviewing the act’s text, structure and purpose, the 10-judge majority held that the CSRA did not repeal subject matter jurisdiction. They found that the act only denies jurisdiction “for [the twelve] actions covered by the CSRA,” including promotions and disciplinary actions, among other things.
In effect, the Thursday decision halts the enforcement of Biden’s mandate nationwide. The case will return to the federal district court which originally heard the case for a decision on the merits and a permanent injunction. The current injunction is only preliminary. Circuit Judge Andrew Oldham, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, concluded the majority opinion by saying:
When the parties proceed to the merits in the district court, the plaintiffs will have to prove that whatever injunction they request is broad enough to protect against their proven injuries and no broader. And the Government will have another chance to show that any permanent injunction should be narrower than the preliminary one. And both sides will have to grapple with the White House’s announcement that the COVID emergency will finally end on May 11, 2023.
Biden issued the mandate for federal employees in September 2021 alongside EO 14042, which sought to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for federal contractors. However, a judicial challenge resulted in a preliminary injunction that barred enforcement of EO 14042, similar to the result of Thursday’s decision. The two executive orders join the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency temporary standard and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ healthcare rule as unsuccessful attempts to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 with vaccine mandates.