Legal Challenges Complicate Vaccine Mandate for Federal Contractors, Including Universities

 

​​​​In the latest development on vaccine mandates, a federal district court in Georgia last week blocked President Biden’s mandate for millions of federal contractors’ employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, ruling that Executive Order 14042 exceeds congressional authority.   

The president’s​ order, together with Safer Federal Workforce Task Force guidance, had set Jan. 4  as the deadline for contractors and subcontractors performing work on certain federal contracts to ensure that their employees and others working in connection with these contracts are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. On Dec. 7, Judge Stan Baker of the Southern District of Georgia issued a nationwide preliminary injunction. Now the president’s executive order is on hold. Any appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit could take months, as there is no reason to believe it will rush to consider the matter on an expedited basis.   

The lawsuit was brought by several states, the governors of Georgia, Alabama, Idaho, and South Carolina; the board of regents of the University System of Georgia; and several others. The decision by Judge Baker, nominated by President Trump in 2017, referred to testimony from plaintiffs’ witnesses offered from three universities in the University System of Georgia, who testified about their institution’s participation in and reliance on federal contracting, providing data on the number of employees who work on federal contracts, the amount of funds their institutions received from these contracts, and the institutional challenges the mandate had created.  

This decision adds to the recent legal challenges that have gone against the White House’s efforts to get as many Americans vaccinated as possible. On Nov. 30, a federal judge in Louisiana blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. Also, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had required all employers with more than 100 employees to require either vaccinations or regular testing, but a federal court of appeals in New Orleans ruled last month that the order was an overreach of authority.  

It’s important to note that these decisions don’t bar institutions in states that don’t prohibit vaccine requirements from moving forward with their policies. Another recent development that will not pose a problem: The Senate passed​ a largely symbolic measure on Tuesday that would have essentially overturned all executive orders on these mandates. However, even if that bill passes the House, it would be vetoed by the president.  ​