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Courts won't derail the federal vaccine mandate, White House insists

Despite the temporary stay of a federal appellate court, and any subsequent challenge, the historic requirement will go into effect on Jan. 4 as planned, according to a spokesperson.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Voicing certainty the courts won’t overturn President Biden’s employee vaccine mandate, the White House warned employers Monday that a temporary halt of the plan by a federal appellate court won’t push back the requirement’s start date of Jan. 4.

“People should not wait,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing Monday. “They should continue to go—move forward and make sure that they’re getting their workplace vaccinated.

She was responding to a question about the likely effect of a federal appellate court’s temporary suspension of the president’s plan on Saturday.

The action in Louisiana, brought by the state’s attorney general, alleges that the federal executive branch does not have the constitutional authority to issue such a mandate. The White House has directed all companies employing at least 100 people to require that every worker prove they’ve either been vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested negative for coronavirus no further back than a week beforehand.

The court said the mandate, issued in the form of an Emergency Temporary Standard from the U.S. Department of Labor, raised enough constitutional issues to merit a halt in its adoption. It promised quick action to determine if the temporary stay of adoption should be lifted or made permanent. That go-or-no-go determination is expected as soon as today.

“The administration clearly has the authority to protect workers, and actions announced by the president are designed to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Jean-Pierre. “And as [the U.S. Department of Justice] said, they will be defending these lawsuits.

“Congress empowered OSHA”—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Labor agency charged with enforcing the mandate—"through a law that has been in the books for more than 50 years.  So, this is an authority that we believe that Department of Labor has.  We are very confident about it.”

Legal authorities have said the White House likely did extensive legal research before Biden announced the requirement on Sept. 5 to ensure that it had the constitutional authority to issue the unprecedented mandate.

The temporary stay by the Fifth Appellate Court has little practical effect on adoption of the emergency mandate by private businesses, since the vaccine component does not take effect on them until Jan. 4. But federal agencies are directed to comply by Nov. 22.

A large group of state attorneys general are expected to seek dismissal of the mandate in a federal circuit court. A suspension of the requirement there would have more of an effect than the stay issued by the Louisiana appellate court. There were questions as to whether that stay affected enforcement outside the court’s limited geographic jurisdiction.

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