US court freezes Biden vaccine mandate for businesses

Rule would require workers at businesses with more than 100 employees to get COVID-19 shots or be tested weekly.

The US is the country worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic globally, with nearly 46.5m coronavirus infections and more than 754,000 deaths [Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]

A federal appeals court in the United States has frozen a vaccine mandate by President Joe Biden’s administration that is intended to push workers at businesses with more than 100 staff into getting COVID-19 shots, or be tested weekly.

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled on Saturday that “there are grave statutory and constitutional issues” with the mandate.

“The mandate is hereby stayed pending further action by this court,” it said.

The two-page order directs the Biden administration to respond to the request for a permanent injunction against the rule by 5pm on Monday.

The stay came after numerous Republican-led states filed legal challenges against the new rule, which is set to take effect on January 4.

In a statement, Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said the Labor Department was “confident in its legal authority” to issue the rule, which will be enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

“The Occupational Safety and Health Act explicitly gives OSHA the authority to act quickly in an emergency where the agency finds that workers are subjected to a grave danger and a new standard is necessary to protect them,” she said. “We are fully prepared to defend this standard in court.”

The action on private-sector vaccinations was taken under OSHA’s emergency authority over workplace safety, officials said. The rule applies to 84.2 million workers at 1.9 million private-sector employers, according to OSHA.

Unveiled on Thursday, the rule was immediately met with promises of legal action from Republican governors and others who argued it overstepped the Democratic administration’s legal authority.

Saturday’s court order came in response to a joint petition from several businesses, advocacy groups, and the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah.

The rule is also facing separate legal challenges before other courts.

Robert Field, professor of Law and Health Management and Policy at Drexel University, told Al Jazeera that most “legal experts think that this mandate is on solid ground”.

“It is true that a mandate of this scope, using emergency powers, is unprecedented. On the other hand, that does not mean it doesn’t have a legal basis, so we will just have to wait and see what the court says,” he said.

During the legal proceedings, Biden administration will argue COVID is an emergency that threatens worker health and safety, Field said, and “we could see objections that COVID isn’t that kind of an emergency and that the regulations amount to overreach, that while the government can do certain things to ensure worker health and safety, this is going too far”.

The US is the country to have been the worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic globally, having recorded nearly 46.5 million coronavirus infections and more than 754,000 deaths.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies