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Challenge to Executive Branch Vaccine Mandate Dismissed

April 11, 2022

Overview

On Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Feds for Medical Freedom v. Biden, No. 22-400-43, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal district court’s nationwide injunction barring implementation of Executive Order 14043, which mandates COVID-19 vaccination for all executive branch employees, subject to medical and religious exceptions. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not have jurisdiction to hear the executive employees’ challenges to the vaccination mandate because the Civil Service Reform Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 1101-05 (2012), deprived the district court of jurisdiction and required the executive branch employees to seek relief through the Merit Systems Protection Board, if they were subject to adverse employment action for not being vaccinated, or through complaints with the Office of Special Counsel, if they wanted to challenge implementation of the Executive Order before being subject to any adverse employment action. The Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court therefore did not have jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims for relief and remanded the case for dismissal. The end result is that the injunction against President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for executive employees has been lifted. 

The decision by the Fifth Circuit did not address the merits of the executive employee vaccine mandate or the President’s authority to implement such a mandate through executive orders. Instead, the Fifth Circuit’s decision was based entirely on jurisdictional grounds. As such, the Fifth Circuit’s decision will have little impact on the federal contractor vaccine mandate appeal currently in the Eleventh Circuit.

Notably, on Friday, April 8, the Eleventh Circuit held oral argument on the government’s appeal of a nationwide injunction issued against the federal contractor vaccine mandate. Although interpreting how an appellate panel will decide a case based on oral argument is a fraught exercise, some of the questions and comments from the Eleventh Circuit’s panel were interesting. One of the panelists described the question of whether the President had the authority to issue the federal contractor vaccinate mandate as a close question and questioned whether, if that was the case, how the federal district court could be found to have abused its discretion in issuing a preliminary injunction. Another panelist questioned the ability of the federal district court to issue a nationwide injunction. In the end, however, the questioning and comments from the Eleventh Circuit’s panel did not provide a clear insight into how they will resolve the federal contractor vaccine mandate. We do not expect a decision from the Eleventh Circuit for several weeks. 

This article summarizes aspects of the law and does not constitute legal advice. For legal advice for your situation, you should contact an attorney.

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