A federal judge on Tuesday blocked President Joe Biden’s administration from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees of federal contractors, the latest in a string of victories for Republican-led states pushing back against Biden’s pandemic policies.
U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker, in Augusta, Georgia, issued a stay to bar enforcement of the mandate nationwide.
The order came in response to a lawsuit from several contractors and seven states — Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia. It applies across the U.S. because one of those challenging the order is the trade group Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., whose members do business nationwide.
Baker found that the states are likely to succeed in their claim that Biden exceeded authorization from Congress when he issued the requirement in September.
“The Court acknowledges the tragic toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought throughout the nation and the globe,” wrote the judge, an appointee of former President Donald Trump. “However, even in times of crisis this Court must preserve the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government act within the bounds of their constitutionally granted authorities.”
A White House spokeswoman said the Justice Department would continue to defend the mandate.
“The reason that we proposed these requirements is that we know they work, and we are confident in our ability, legally, to make these happen across the country,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at Tuesday’s briefing.
A federal judge in Kentucky also had issued a preliminary injunction against the mandate last week, but it applied only to contractors in three states that had sued together — Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.
Biden issued an executive order Sept. 9 requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to comply with workplace safety guidelines developed by a federal task force. That task force subsequently issued guidelines that new, renewed or extended contracts include a clause requiring employees to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 18. That meant those receiving a two-dose vaccine must get their second shot by Jan. 4.
Limited exceptions were allowed for medical or religions reasons. The requirements would apply to millions of employees of federal contractors, which include defense companies and airlines.
“This is a big win in removing compliance hurdles for the construction industry, which is facing economic challenges, such as a workforce shortage of 430,000, rising materials prices and supply chain issues,” Ben Brubeck, a vice president of the construction industry group said in a statement.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, said in a Twitter message that the ruling will provide relief to workers “who were in fear of being forced to choose between this vaccine and their livelihood.”
Other Republican officials also praised the court ruling. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said the mandate was “just an outrageous overreach by the federal government.”
With Tuesday’s ruling, all three of Biden’s broad vaccine mandates affecting the private sector have been put on hold by courts. Judges already issued a stay regarding one that applies to businesses with 100 or more employees and another for health care workers across the U.S.
Separately, Biden has imposed vaccine requirements for employees of the federal government and the military.
The mandates are a key part of the administration’s strategy to stop the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 788,000 Americans since last year.
The ruling Tuesday affects thousands of Wichitans working in the aviation industry. Spirit AeroSystems and Textron workers are considered federal contractors.
The union president who represents many of the employees is calling it a win, saying the temporary block is a relief.
“I think it’s huge it’s, it’s a big burden off of us as contractors. And when we lose our right to choose is just is crazy. You know, I mean, it’s just bad deal,” said Cornell Beard, IAMAW District Lodge 70 president.
The ruling also affects some state university employees. Wichita State, Kansas State and Kansas University were listed as federal contractors and subcontractors.
Statement from Wichita State on pause to employee vaccine mandate
Earlier today, an injunction was issued by a federal judge in Georgia halting the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal government contractors and subcontractors. Because of this injunction, Wichita State University is suspending the employee vaccine mandate requirement and process, effective immediately. Employees are not required to be vaccinated as a condition of employment at the university.
We have all become accustomed during this COVID-19 crisis to adapting and pivoting quickly when needed. This is yet another example where our university community continues to demonstrate their commitment to compliance, the health and safety of our community, and adjusting when necessary. We will continue to monitor and communicate any further changes on this and other COVID-19 related requirements.
In the meantime, we encourage everyone to continue to take all reasonable steps to protect your health and to combat the spread of COVID-19. We encourage everyone to be vaccinated and to get the vaccine booster. Vaccines are readily available at no charge by appointment at the WSU Student Health Center to WSU employees and students, and at most major pharmacies. Employees may also explore options near them at vaccines.gov.
Thank you for all you have done and continue to do for our university!President Rick Muma