White House: Cost of Lives Lost Worth More Than Harm to Foes of Vaccine Mandate

The Biden administration argued in a court filing that petitioners pushing to block the vaccine mandate failed to assert harm to themselves that would outweigh the cost of people dying of COVID-19.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans, temporarily blocked the Biden administration's vaccine or testing mandate, citing the "grave statutory and constitutional issues" the petitioners raised. The Department of Labor issued the mandate last week, which requires businesses with at least 100 employees to institute a vaccine-only policy or have unvaccinated employees wear masks and submit to weekly testing.

More than 20 states filed lawsuits against the mandate, alleging infringements on the Constitution and federal government overreach. Department of Labor officials have defended the emergency temporary standard as being no different than others that Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued in the past.

The Biden administration argued in a court filing that OSHA has the ability to implement the temporary standard, in part because of the "grave" danger that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to the public. The government wrote the vaccine or testing requirements could save thousands of lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, an outcome that far outweighs the petitioners' claimed injuries.

"Staying this Standard would endanger many thousands of people," the court filing said. "Petitioners' asserted injuries, by contrast, are speculative and remote and do not outweigh the interest in protecting employees from a dangerous virus while this case proceeds."

Biden first announced the nationwide mandate in September, but said the final details would be left up to the Department of Labor to iron out. That final guidance was released last week and gives companies a choice to require employees be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask when around other employees. It's expected to impact more than 80 million workers in the United States.

joe biden covid vaccine mandate
The Biden administration has argued that the vaccine or testing mandate is constitutionally sound, asking a court to reject a petition for it to be blocked. President Joe Biden speaks during a press conference in the State Dining Room at the White House on November 6 in Washington, D.C. Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Under the current mandate, employers who plan to require their employees be vaccinated must institute a policy at the beginning of December. Companies that allow unvaccinated employees to continue working must implement mask policies at that time, but they have until January 4 to institute the testing aspect of the guidance.

Department of Labor officials estimate the mandate could prevent 250,000 hospitalizations and Mary Walsh, secretary of the Department of Labor, said the administration has to do "what's right for our workers."

Failing to comply with the mandate could result in $14,000 fines per violation, with a fine of up to $136,000 for a "willful" infraction.

White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday that the administration is "very confident" the mandate can stand up to legal challenges. Jean-Pierre pushed back on the categorization of the emergency temporary standard as a "vaccine mandate" because businesses can allow employees to undergo weekly testing instead.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry called Saturday's stay a "major win for the liberty of job creators and their employees."

Petitioners have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to reply to the Biden administration's response to the petition for a permanent injunction on the mandate.