Federal appeals court rules to reinstate nationwide preliminary injunction against Biden vaccine mandate for federal employees

March 24, 2023
Ben Marquis

Even as President Joe Biden's administration is reportedly set to formally declare an end to the COVID-19 pandemic in the coming months, it was still attempting to enforce the vaccine mandate for all federal employees that Biden imposed via executive order.

However, a majority of the entire Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled to reinstate a nationwide preliminary injunction that blocks enforcement of that mandate, the Associated Press reported.

The rare en banc hearing before all of the circuit court's judges followed a ruling last year in which a three-judge panel of the same court had upheld President Biden's mandate order and overruled a preliminary injunction that had been imposed by a district court judge.

A question of jurisdiction

Very little of the majority opinion actually addressed the vaccine mandate itself, but rather dwelt at length on the question of whether or not the federal courts actually had jurisdiction over the complaints of federal employees against the mandate.

The government had argued -- and the prior three-judge panel seemingly agreed -- that the courts lacked any jurisdiction in this case since federal employees had other routes available to them to seek redress for grievances, including the Civil Service Reform Act, the Merit Systems Protection Board, or even the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, per Fox News.

Circuit Judge Andrew Oldham, a Trump appointee who wrote the majority opinion, along with nine other judges disagreed, however, and determined that the federal courts did indeed have jurisdiction because this particular controversy was not covered under the CSRA or any of the other options put forward by the administration.

Injunction reimposed, now on to the merits

Following a thorough discussion of the CSRA and a lengthy section addressing and rebutting critiques put forward by dissenting judges, Judge Oldham finally affirmed the district court's initial preliminary injunction, reimposed it, and explained why it was to be applied nationwide instead of limited to just the plaintiffs in this particular case.

"We hasten to emphasize that this case only involves a preliminary injunction. The preliminary injunction’s purpose is to maintain the status quo until the parties have the chance to adjudicate the merits," Oldham wrote.

"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," he continued. "And the Government will have another chance to show that any permanent injunction should be narrower than the preliminary one."

The judge then added, "And both sides will have to grapple with the White House’s announcement that the COVID emergency will finally end on May 11, 2023" -- which would seemingly render this entire case moot, as there would no longer be a declared "emergency" to justify the extraordinary order for all employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

What comes next?

According to Government Executive, it remains unclear at this point if the Biden administration will continue to try and pursue enforcement of the mandate in spite of the injunction and the fact that the "emergency" will soon be formally declared over.

Instead, an unnamed senior administration official simply said in a statement, "The federal government successfully implemented a COVID-19 vaccination requirement within the largest employer in the nation, achieving a 98 percent compliance rate," and added, "We continue to believe that vaccination remains one of the most important tools to protect people from serious illness and hospitalizations against COVID-19."

As for the plaintiffs in this suit, a nonprofit group comprised of federal employees known as Feds for Medical Freedom, they celebrated the ruling with a tweet that read, "VICTORY!!! 5th circuit court of appeals rules to uphold the block of EO 14043 against vaccine mandates for federal employees."

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