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Appeals court blocks COVID-19 vaccine mandate for large businesses

Louisiana Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry, right, speaks at a lectern with Gov. John Bel Edwards at his side
Louisiana Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry, right, with Gov. John Bel Edwards in April, sued to block the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement for businesses with 100 or more workers. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Saturday granted an emergency stay.
(Bill Feig )

A federal appeals court Saturday temporarily halted the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for businesses with 100 or more workers.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay of the requirement by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration that those workers be vaccinated by Jan. 4 or submit to masking and weekly testing requirements.

Louisiana Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry said the action stops President Biden “from moving forward with his unlawful overreach.”

“The president will not impose medical procedures on the American people without the checks and balances afforded by the constitution,” said a statement from Landry, a Republican.

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Labor Solicitor Seema Nanda said the department is “confident in its legal authority to issue the emergency temporary standard on vaccination and testing.”

OSHA has the authority “to act quickly in an emergency where the agency finds that workers are subjected to a grave danger and a new standard is necessary to protect them,” she said.

Such circuit decisions normally apply to states within a district — in this case, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas — but Landry said the language employed by the judges gives the decision a national scope.

“This is a great victory for the American people out there. Never before has the federal government tried in such a forceful way to get between the choices of an American citizen and their doctor. To me, that’s the heart of the entire issue,” he said.

At least 27 states filed lawsuits challenging the rule in several circuits, some of which were made more conservative by judicial appointments of former President Trump.

Heads of state, environmental activists, business leaders and journalists are in Scotland for a climate summit that comes as world leaders are running out of time to break away from fossil fuels and prevent the most catastrophic effects of global warming.

The Biden administration has been encouraging widespread vaccinations as the quickest way to end the pandemic that has claimed more than 750,000 lives in the United States. The administration says it is confident that the requirement, which includes penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation, will withstand legal challenges in part because its safety rules preempt state laws.

The 5th Circuit, based in New Orleans, said it was delaying the federal vaccine requirement because of potential “grave statutory and constitutional issues” raised by the plaintiffs. The government must provide an expedited reply to the motion for a permanent injunction on Monday; petitioners must reply Tuesday.

Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University’s law school, said it was troubling that a federal appeals court would stop or delay safety rules in a health crisis, saying no one has a right to go into a workplace “unmasked, unvaxxed and untested.”

“Unelected judges that have no scientific experience shouldn’t be second-guessing health and safety professionals at OSHA,” he said.


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