5th Circuit revives Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers over jurisdictional issue

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A federal appeals court on Thursday revived the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers when it ruled a federal judge had no jurisdiction to block the requirement.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a nationwide injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown and ordered dismissal of the case, report the Associated Press, Reuters, CNN and the New York Times.

Biden’s mandate had required COVID-19 vaccines for all executive branch employees, with exceptions for medical and religious reasons.

Brown had reasoned Biden had likely exceeded his authority under the Constitution and federal statutes when he issued the mandate in January. The 5th Circuit reversed in a 2-1 opinion, holding that the plaintiffs should have followed the exclusive procedures established by the Civil Service Reform Act.

That law bars pre-enforcement challenges such as the one filed by the plaintiffs, who had not yet faced discipline for failing to comply with the vaccine mandate, the appeals court said.

After adverse employment action is taken, federal employees who want to appeal must seek relief with the Merit Systems Protection Board. If that appeal fails, the employees may seek review before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The appeals court said the plaintiffs could have taken another pre-enforcement route, however. They could have filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel alleging that the mandate was a prohibited personnel practice.

If the office sided with the plaintiffs, it would have the authority to report that action and petition the Merit Systems Protection Board for corrective action. The plaintiffs would have a right to appeal an adverse decision by the board to the Federal Circuit.

Judge Carl Stewart wrote the majority opinion in the case, Feds for Medical Freedom v. Biden.

In a separate vaccine case, the U.S. Supreme Court in January blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for larger companies. But the court allowed a vaccine mandate for health care workers in health care settings that receive federal funds.

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