U.S. seeks to resume enforcing federal employee vaccine mandate
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Justice Department on Monday asked a federal appeals court to allow the Biden administration to resume enforcing a federal employee vaccine mandate that had been blocked by a lower-court judge in January.
A 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel on Thursday reinstated President Joe Biden’s executive order mandating that federal civilian employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. The White House last week had told federal agencies they “must continue to take no action to implement or enforce the COVID-19 vaccination requirement” pending additional procedural steps by the court.
On Monday, the Justice Department asked the appeals court to take “appropriate steps so that the government may resume implementation and enforcement” of President Joe Biden’s executive order.
It said the appeals court should issue its order immediately to allow the ruling to take effect, arguing it is “justified by the serious ongoing harm to the public interest and to the government.”
Biden in September said he would require about 3.5 million government workers to get vaccinated by Nov. 22, barring a religious or medical accommodation, or face discipline or firing.
The Biden administration argued the federal trial court had no power to hear the dispute. It told the appeals court that employees were required to raise their grievance through the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA).
The panel’s 2-1 majority said the plaintiffs had sought “to circumvent the CSRA’s exclusive review scheme.”
The White House has said more than 93% of federal employees have received at least one vaccination and 98% have been vaccinated or are seeking a religious or medical exemption.
In mid-January, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses. The court allowed a separate federal vaccine requirement for healthcare facilities.
A third major vaccine requirement aimed at employees of federal contractors like airlines and manufacturers was blocked by a federal judge in December.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and Bill Berkrot)