“Our Courts, Our Fight” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties and the need for the Senate to confirm President Biden’s federal court nominees to help counteract these effects . Supreme and appellate court cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.
Trump District Judge Jeffrey Vincent Brown in Texas issued a nationwide injunction that stopped any enforcement of the Biden Administration requirement that federal workers get vaccinated against COVID-19. The January 2022 decision was in Feds for Medical Freedom v Biden.
As part of the Biden Administration’s Path out of the Pandemic effort, the administration promulgated an important requirement last September that all federal workers, except those who can demonstrate medical or religious exemptions, should be vaccinated against COVID-19. Although the Office of Management and Budget has reported that over 97% of the nation’s 3.5 million federal workers are now so vaccinated, a group calling itself Feds for Medical Freedom filed suit challenging the requirement in December, with enforcement action against non-compliant workers scheduled to begin in 2022.
Trump District judge Brown issued a preliminary injunction in mid-January forbidding any enforcement of the requirement, based largely on the Supreme Court’s decision invalidating the OSHA requirement that large private businesses ensure that employees are vaccinated. According to Brown, although the President has “broad statutory authority” over federal employees and employment policies, the OSHA ruling shows that a COVID-19 vaccination requirement is “not an employment regulation” and that the challengers would thus likely succeed on their claim that the President “was without” authority to issue the requirement for federal workers. But the federal worker case does not concern the federal government’s authority to require vaccination of private companies’ employees. As law professor Steve Vladeck has pointed out, it is “just insane” to claim that the federal government “lacks the power” to require vaccination of its own workers, just as a private employer can. The case is also yet another example of a Trump district judge ordering a nationwide injunction despite bipartisan criticism of such mandates.
The government has announced an immediate appeal of the injunction, and the high rate of compliance by federal employees with the vaccination requirement will fortunately limit the order’s impact. But the case is yet another example of why judges matter, and illustrates the importance of continued action by the Senate to confirm fair-minded judges at all levels as part of our fight for our courts.