Trump District judge Matthew McFarland issued a nationwide preliminary injunction that indefinitely blocks enforcement of an Air Force vaccine mandate whenever there is a religious objection. The injunction follows up on another McFarland order that applied to 18 servicemembers who filed the suit. McFarland issued his July 2022 order in Doster v Kendall.
What led to Trump judge McFarland’s nationwide injunction?
The Air Force, like other military services, has required COVID-19 vaccinations for servicemembers. As of mid-July, over 95% of Air Force personnel have received vaccinations. Around 1500 have applied for and received medical, administrative, or religious exemptions, mostly in the first two categories. The Air Force has so far discharged over 800 personnel for refusing the vaccination.
18 Air Force personnel filed suit before McFarland after the Air Force denied their requests for a religious exemption. In March, as reported in this blog, McFarland issued a preliminary injunction stopping any enforcement of the mandate against them. As the case continued, the plaintiffs sought to turn it into a class action with nationwide effects.
McFarland did as these plaintiffs wanted. He certified the case as a class action. He then issued a nationwide preliminary injunction stopping any enforcement of the mandate whenever a religious objection is raised. According to McFarland’s order, the Air Force failed to raise “any persuasive arguments” to the contrary, and he was “well within [his] bounds” in taking this action. The injunction applies to over 7000 servicemembers.
What’s wrong with McFarland’s injunction?
Plenty. As the Air Force has explained, allowing unvaccinated members to serve “would significantly increase” the risk that the Air Force will not be able to accomplish its mission. It will also cause “substantial and lasting harm” to order and discipline, as well as to anyone infected. And the Air Force does consider religious exemptions on a case-by-case basis.
As with McFarland’s previous order, he ignored an important Supreme Court ruling on the issue. In a 6-3 decision earlier in 2022, the Court stayed a lower court order that had similarly stopped the Navy SEALS from enforcing a vaccination requirement. As Justice Kavanaugh had noted, the lower court order contradicted the “bedrock constitutional principle” that the President and “not any federal judge” is commander in chief.
The government has appealed McFarland’s injunction. As reflected by the dissenting votes of Justices Gorsuch, Thomas and Alito in the SEALS case, however, the outcome remains uncertain. This case presents yet another example of Trump judges interfering with Biden Administration actions to protect our health and safety.