Appeals Court Allows Biden Vaccine Mandate for Private Employers to Take Effect

A panel of judges on the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that it would allow President Joe Biden's COVID vaccination mandate for private employers with over 100 employees to be enforced.

The decision reversed a ruling by a lower court federal judge that was stopping the mandate from going into effect Jan. 4 for an estimated 84 million workers. It is unclear following the ruling if the mandate will still be enacted by the originally planned date or if it will be moved, according to The Associated Press.

Those who are still not fully vaccinated by the time the mandate is enforced would have to wear masks and comply with weekly COVID tests. The mandate also contains exceptions for people who work outdoors or do their jobs remotely.

The panel that delivered the ruling in a 2-1 decision is made up of a judge appointed by former President Barack Obama, one appointed by former President George W. Bush, and one appointed by former President Donald Trump. The Trump appointee was the dissenting vote.

The appeal brought to the court was a consolidation of lawsuits against the mandate from several Republican state attorneys general, conservative activist groups, some private companies and larger business associations.

The lawsuits intended to counter the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which originally announced the mandate in November. Several involved in the original lawsuits plan to appeal.

"Given OSHA's clear and exercised authority to regulate viruses, OSHA necessarily has the authority to regulate infectious diseases that are not unique to the workplace," Judge Julia Smith Gibbons wrote in her majority opinion.

The decision comes a day after the Biden administration requested assistance from the Supreme Court in allowing the vaccine mandate for health care workers to take effect in the 24 states in which it is currently being held up by two lower court decisions.

COVID, Vaccine Mandate, Joe Biden, Appeals Court
A syringe is prepared with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic at the Keystone First Wellness Center in Chester, Pa. A federal appeals court ruled Friday that President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for private companies with over 100 employees will be allowed to continue. Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Gibbons said the rule "is not a novel expansion of OSHA's power; it is an existing application of authority to a novel and dangerous worldwide pandemic."

She was joined by Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch, an Obama appointee.

The case was consolidated in the 6th circuit, which is dominated by Republican-appointed judges. Earlier this week, the circuit's active judges rejected a move to have the entire panel consider the case, on an 8-8 vote.

The dissent came from Judge Joan Larsen, an appointee Trump, who said Congress did not authorize OSHA to make this sort of rule and that it did not qualify as a necessity to use the emergency procedures the agency followed to put it in place.

Larsen also argued that vaccinated workers "do not face 'grave danger' from working with those who are not vaccinated."

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said she would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block the order. The Job Creators Network, a conservative advocacy group, said Friday it had already asked the Supreme Court to block the mandate.

"The Sixth Circuit's decision is extremely disappointing for Arkansans because it will force them to get the shot or lose their jobs," Rutledge said.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, who also is chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association, said in a Twitter message Friday that he was confident the mandate could be stopped.

The vaccine requirement would apply to companies with 100 or more employees and would cover about 84 million workers in the U.S. Employees who are not fully vaccinated would have to wear masks and be subject to weekly COVID-19 tests. There would be exceptions, including for those who work outdoors or only at home.

The rule is separate from other vaccine mandates announced by the Biden administration that apply to federal government contractors and workers in health care facilities that receive funding from Medicaid or Medicare. All the rules are under assault from conservatives and have been paused in at least some parts of the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

COVID, Vaccine Mandate, Joe Biden, Appeals Court
President Joe Biden addresses graduates of South Carolina State University during their commencement ceremony, in Orangeburg, South Carolina. A federal appeals court ruled Friday that Biden's COVID vaccine mandate for private companies with over 100 employees will be allowed to continue. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images