US court declines to lift stay on Biden vaccine mandate for businesses

A federal court declined on Friday to lift its stay on the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for businesses to vaccinate employees for Covid-19.

The New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay last Saturday of the requirement by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration that those workers be vaccinated by Jan. 4 or face mask requirements and weekly tests.

The three-judge panel for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans affirmed its initial order from last week, which blocked the mandate from going into effect.

Lawyers for the Justice and Labor departments filed a response Monday in which they said stopping the mandate from taking effect will only prolong the COVID-19 pandemic and would “cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day.”

But the appeals court rejected that argument Friday. Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt wrote that the stay “is firmly in the public interest.”

“From economic uncertainty to workplace strife, the mere specter of the Mandate has contributed to untold economic upheaval in recent months,” Engelhardt wrote.

The court said on Friday that the mandate “grossly exceeds” the administration’s authority.

If upheld, the suspension would represent a major setback to one of Biden’s most far-reaching and high-impact efforts to secure the widespread immunization of American workers ahead of a winter when a resurgence of Covid-19 is expected.

Biden had set a January 4 deadline for such companies to ensure full vaccination of their employees — a rule the administration said would affect more than two-thirds of the country’s workforce and which the court ruling criticized as “staggeringly overbroad.”

At least 27 states have filed legal challenges in at least six federal appeals courts after OSHA released its rules on Nov. 4. The federal government said in its court filings Monday that the cases should be consolidated and that one of the circuit courts where a legal challenge has been filed should be chosen at random on Nov. 16 to hear it.

Administration lawyers said there is no reason to keep the vaccine mandate on hold while the court where the cases ultimately land remains undetermined.

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