A judge in Texas has ruled that President Joe Biden could not require federal employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus (Covid-19) and blocked the US government from disciplining employees who failed to comply.
Biden issued an order requiring about 3.5mn workers to get vaccinated by November 22 barring a religious or medical accommodation – or else face discipline or firing.
US District Judge Jeffrey Brown said the question was whether Biden could “require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment”.
“That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far,” he said.
Brown, based in Galveston and appointed by former president Donald Trump, said that the government could protect public health with less invasive measures, such as masking and social distancing.
The US Department of Justice said it will appeal the ruling.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said 98% of federal workers are vaccinated or have sought medical or religious exemptions.
“We are confident in our legal authority,” she said in response to the judge’s ruling.
The judge said that it is his understanding that the government is going to be begin disciplining non-compliant employees imminently.
The ruling is the latest in a series of court decisions to go against government vaccine requirements.
In mid-January, the US Supreme Court blocked the president’s Covid-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses, a policy conservative justices deemed an improper imposition on the lives and health of many Americans.
The court allowed a separate federal vaccine requirement for healthcare facilities.
A third vaccine requirement aimed at employees of federal contractors was blocked by a federal judge in December.
Covid-19 has killed more than 800,000 people in the US in the two-year long pandemic and weighed heavily on the economy.
Many large employers such as United Airlines and Tyson Foods Inc have touted their success in using mandates to get nearly all staff vaccinated.
The Supreme Court ruling that blocked the mandate for larger businesses prompted some employers, including Starbucks, to abandon vaccine requirements for staff.
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