A federal district court judge in Texas has blocked President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers, dealing the administration another stinging court defeat.
Judge Jeffrey Brown of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, a Trump appointee, said that the president's order exceeded his authority and harmed the "liberty interests of employees."
"The court notes at the outset that this case is not about whether folks should get vaccinated against COVID-19 — the court believes they should. It is not even about the federal government's power, exercised properly, to mandate vaccination of its employees," Brown wrote in his opinion.
"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. That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far," he said.
The judge granted a nationwide preliminary injunction blocking Biden's order from taking effect.
Brown's order follows a Supreme Court decision earlier this month that struck down Biden's direction to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to mandate that businesses with 100 or more employees have their workers vaccinated against or regularly tested for COVID-19. In a 6-3 vote, the court declared that OSHA lacked the authority to impose such a mandate.
Biden's requirements that federal employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine or be fired, with no testing option, were estimated to impact more than 3.5 million federal workers. The mandate went into effect in November, and on Friday White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced that 98% of federal workers have complied.
"We are confident in our legal authority here," she said.
The Biden Department of Justice immediately said it would appeal the ruling.
The plaintiff in the suit is the group Feds for Medical Freedom, which represents federal employees opposed to the vaccine mandate. The Washington Examiner reported that the group consists of 39 unnamed federal workers across the government at the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Justice, State, and Treasury, as well as the CIA.
“I believe that our lawsuit is based on sound research and how the federal employment discrimination law has been developed over the past four decades,” Carol Thompson, an attorney for the plaintiff, told the Examiner Tuesday. "I do also see that this may be something that doesn't end at the federal district court level, given that there are different federal district courts coming out in different ways. I perceive it as being an issue that ultimately is possibly going to be seen by the Supreme Court, potentially."