5th Circuit temporarily blocks Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private businesses

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the COVID-19 response and the vaccination program at the White House on Aug. 23, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the COVID-19 response and the vaccination program at the White House on Aug. 23, 2021, in Washington, D.C. | JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

A federal appeals court ruled on Saturday to temporarily halt the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate that would have required businesses with 100 employees or more to force workers to get vaccinated or be tested weekly for the virus and wear a mask.

Under the administration's new rules, private employers that don't comply with the mandate would face steep fines, up to $14,000 for each violation, and employees risk being terminated for noncompliance. 

In its ruling, the three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stated: 

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Before the court is the petitioners’ emergency motion to stay
enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s
November 5, 2021 Emergency Temporary Standard (the “Mandate”)
pending expedited judicial review.

Because the petitions give cause to believe there are grave statutory
and constitutional issues with the Mandate, the Mandate is hereby STAYED pending further action by this court.

The Fifth Circuit ruling added that the U.S. government must respond by 5 p.m. on Monday. 

Texas' Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton hailed the court ruling in response to the state's lawsuit against the administration's coronavirus vaccine mandate. 

"Yesterday, I sued the Biden Admin over its unlawful OSHA vax mandate," Paxton tweeted Saturday. "WE WON. Just this morning, citing "grave statutory and constitutional issues," the 5th Circuit stayed the mandate. The fight is not over and I will never stop resisting this Admin’s unconstitutional overreach!"

Paxton filed the state's petition to the Fifth Circuit on Friday and released a statement decrying the vaccine mandate on private businesses as a "breathtaking abuse of federal power."

“OSHA has only limited power and specific responsibilities," the attorney general added. "This latest move goes way outside those bounds. This ‘standard’ is flatly unconstitutional. Bottom line: Biden’s new mandate is bad policy and bad law, and I’m asking the Court to strike it down.”  

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health disagreed with the judges' ruling, describing the decision as "shameful and outrageous."

In an emailed statement to The Christian Post, Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of NCOSH, said: “The Fifth Circuit ruling that blocks OSHA’s new COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) is wrong on the facts, wrong on the law, and absolutely wrong when it comes to protecting workers’ lives. While we believe this standard can be improved, there is no sound legal reason — none — to block it from taking effect at a time when COVID-19 is still a deadly threat in America’s workplaces."

She added: “It’s shameful and outrageous to see anyone put politics ahead of public health.  The judges who wrote this decision have probably been able to work safely from home throughout this pandemic. They should go right now to a poultry plant, a nursing home, a warehouse or another workplace where COVID-19 is still spreading, to see the real-life impact of their grossly irresponsible ruling.”

As CP reported Friday, the Daystar Television Network, American Family Association and Answers in Genesis petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth and Sixth Circuits, asking the judges to “review and set aside” the mandate, noted the First Liberty which is representing the religious entities. 

First Liberty asserts that the prominent national religious ministries it’s representing are “adversely affected” by the vaccine mandate because they “will face workplace shortages if unvaccinated employees quit rather than receive a COVID-19 vaccination.”

The legal challenges also note that petitioners could face “civil penalties up to $70,000” for each willful violation of the vaccine mandate.

Also on Friday, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Asbury Theological Seminary joined other religious and secular businesses in suing the Biden administration over its mandate.

SBTS and Asbury filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to challenge the mandate, said the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the seminaries.

The lawsuit alleges that the federal government cannot coerce individuals nationwide to undergo medical treatment, and it lacks authority to conscript employers to compel that result.

Earlier this week, the Biden administration’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Labor, unveiled the temporary emergency standard.

“It is unacceptable for the government to force religious institutions to become coercive extensions of state power,” Dr. Albert Mohler, the SBTS president, said. “We have no choice but to push back against this intrusion of the government into matters of conscience and religious conviction.”

Mohler added: “This institution exists for the purpose of educating ministers for churches. This seminary must not be forced to stand in for the government in investigating the private health decisions of our faculty and employees in a matter involving legitimate religious concerns.”

He emphasized that “the largest U.S. seminaries of the Baptist and Methodist traditions” standing together against the mandate “should send a clear and urgent message to Christians and to the nation.”

ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Bangert called the decision to mandate vaccines through an OSHA emergency rule “unlawful.”

It “compels employers like our clients to intrude on their employees’ personal health decisions and divert resources from their important mission of training future ministers,” he said. “The government has no authority to unilaterally treat unvaccinated employees like workplace hazards or to compel employers to become vaccine commissars, and we are asking the 6th Circuit to put a stop to it immediately.”

On Thursday, ADF filed a lawsuit against the vaccine mandate on behalf of The Daily Wire, a conservative news outlet based in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Daily Wire’s co-founder and Co-CEO Jeremy Boreing said: “The Daily Wire will not comply with President Biden’s tyrannical vaccine mandate, and we’ve sued the Biden administration to put a stop to their gross overreach. ... Joe Biden, the federal government, social media and the establishment media have all conspired to rob Americans of their freedom in the name of public health. They’ve broken faith with the American people through conflicting messaging, false information, and by suppressing data and perspectives with which they disagree. And forcing us to take a vaccine at the risk of financial ruin isn't going to rebuild that lost trust.”

Boreing further stressed that he is pro-vaccine but is against the mandate: "I've said before that I'm vaccinated. If I were a dictator, I'd probably force most American adults to be vaccinated. But I'm not a dictator, and neither is Joe Biden. COVID is not the greatest threat that we face as a nation, the coordination between big government, big media and big tech to erode our liberties is."

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