WASHINGTON, D.C. – The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans on Thursday reversed a previous ruling by a three-judge panel of the same court that had upheld a COVID-19 vaccination requirement instituted by the Biden Administration, effectively shooting down the mandate for the time being by upholding a preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge in January 2022.
Despite fighting to keep the mandate in place, the Biden admin has noted that approximately 98 percent of federal employees that it pertained to have already received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Previously, a three-member panel of the 5th Circuit had overruled the preliminary injunction and reinstated the mandate, saying that the affected employees should not have filed a lawsuit over the issue, but instead have taken their complaint to federal administrative agencies that deal with employee complaints.
However, in a rare turn of events, the full 5th Circuit Court agreed to hear issue “en banc” – French for “on the bench,” a special procedure where all judges of a particular court hear a case that are especially complex or important – which has resulted in enforcement of the mandate being temporarily voided once again.
The full 5th Circuit arrived at the decision that federal employees where within their rights to sue because they were challenging the authority of the Biden Admin on constitutional grounds. From here the employees’ case will go on to District Court, according to 5th Circuit Judge Andrew Oldham.
“We hasten to emphasize that this case only involves a preliminary injunction. The preliminary injunction’s purpose is to maintain the status quo until the parties have the chance to adjudicate the merits,” Oldham said in the court’s decision. “When the parties proceed to the merits in the district court, the plaintiffs will have to prove that whatever injunction they request is broad enough to protect against their proven injuries and no broader. And the Government will have another chance to show that any permanent injunction should be narrower than the preliminary one.”
Oldham also noted that the White House’s recent announcement that it will end the current COVID-19 emergency declaration on May 11th, 2023 may complicate this case going forward.
President Joe Biden originally issued the vaccination mandate covering federal workers in September 2021, with those holding out facing punishments up to and including the loss of their jobs. Some exceptions were granted for religious or medical reasons, but these instances were proven to be rare, with those they were granted to alleging that they faced workplace reprisals for their decision.