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Biden's COVID vaccine mandate for federal workers blown up in federal court.

Judge Blocks Biden Covid-19 Vaccine Mandate for Federal Workers

President lacked authority to mandate shots, ruling says

The Justice Department said it was filing an appeal to a ruling that blocked the Biden administration’s Covid-19 vaccine requirement for federal workers.

By Jacob Gershman, WSJ

Updated Jan. 21, 2022 3:27 pm ET

A federal judge blocked the Biden administration’s Covid-19 vaccine requirement for federal employees, the latest legal setback for the president’s push to inoculate workers.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey V. Brown in Texas said President Biden didn’t have the broad, unilateral authority to mandate “that all federal employees consent to vaccination against Covid-19 or lose their jobs.”

The judge’s ruling Friday said that the case wasn’t about whether people should be vaccinated.

“It is instead about whether the President can, with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment,” Judge Brown, an appointee of former President Donald Trump who is based in Galveston, wrote. “That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far.”

The Supreme Court last week blocked the administration’s Covid-19 vaccine-or-testing rules for large private employers. The high court, however, allowed the administration to require vaccinations for more than 10 million healthcare workers whose facilities participate in Medicare and Medicaid.

The Justice Department said it was filing an appeal. White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that 98% of federal workers are vaccinated and referred additional questions to the Justice Department. “Obviously we are confident in our legal authority here,” Ms. Psaki said.

“Today’s decision by Judge Brown is a victory for the thousands of men and women who want to serve their government without sacrificing their individual rights,” said Marcus Thornton, president of Feds for Medical Freedom, a newly launched anti-vaccination-mandate group that challenged Mr. Biden’s executive order. Mr. Thornton works as a political officer at the State Department, according to the organization.

Mr. Biden said in September that he would require federal employees in the executive branch either to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or to receive a religious or medical exemption or else face termination.

The president also has mandated vaccination for employees of federal contractors, but those requirements have been put on hold in the lower courts, where proceedings are continuing.

Federal agencies were preparing to punish workers for failing to comply with the president’s order. The judge and Feds for Medical Freedom said the disciplining of noncompliant employees was imminent.

The Biden administration cited several statutes that it said authorized the president to issue the federal-worker mandate, including a law that says the president “may prescribe regulations for the conduct of employees in the executive branch.” It also contended that the Constitution gave the president inherent authority to set internal employment policy for the executive branch.

The administration argued that it wasn’t the court’s role to settle the dispute but said workers facing termination first had to challenge any discipline through administrative channels.

Judge Brown rejected all of those arguments, saying the Biden administration pointed to no example of a previous president invoking the power to impose medical procedures on civilian federal employees.

The judge, citing the Supreme Court’s recent rulings, said the president, without express congressional authorization, was trying to regulate federal employee conduct beyond the context of the workplace, stretching his authority too far.

“The government has offered no answer—no limiting principle to the reach of the power they insist the President enjoys,” Judge Brown wrote. “For its part, this court will say only this: however extensive that power is, the federal-worker mandate exceeds it.”

In deciding to apply his preliminary injunction nationwide, Judge Brown said he saw no practical way of limiting the scope of his order given the broad membership of the lead plaintiff.

Feds for Medical Freedom, he wrote, has “more than 6,000 members spread across every state and in nearly every federal agency.”

—Ken Thomas contributed to this article.

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