Federal court temporarily blocks Biden’s vaccine mandate for larger businesses

A federal appeals court on Saturday temporarily halted the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement for businesses with 100 or more workers.

The fifth US circuit court of appeals granted an emergency stay of the requirement by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha) that such workers be vaccinated by 4 January or face mask requirements and weekly tests.

The stay came two days after the Biden administration unveiled the rule, which immediately met with vows of legal action from Republican governors and others, who argued it overstepped the administration’s legal authority.

The administration has been encouraging widespread vaccinations as the quickest way to end the pandemic that has killed more than 750,000 in the US.

An average of about 1,100 Americans are dying daily from Covid-19, most unvaccinated.

Nonetheless, at least 27 states filed lawsuits challenging the rule in several circuits, some of which were made more conservative by judicial appointments under Donald Trump.

On Saturday the Louisiana attorney general, Jeff Landry, said the stay stopped Joe Biden “from moving forward with his unlawful overreach”.

“The president will not impose medical procedures on the American people without the checks and balances afforded by the constitution,” the Republican said in a statement.

The fifth circuit, based in New Orleans, said it was delaying the federal vaccine requirement because of potential “grave statutory and constitutional issues” raised by the plaintiffs.

The government must provide an expedited reply to the motion for a permanent injunction Monday, followed by petitioners’ reply on Tuesday.

The administration says it is confident the requirement, which includes penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation, will withstand legal challenges in part because federal safety rules pre-empt state laws.

In a statement on Saturday, the solicitor of labor, Seema Nanda, said the Department of Labor was “confident in its legal authority” to issue the rule.

Federal law “explicitly gives Osha the authority to act quickly in an emergency where the agency finds that workers are subjected to a grave danger and a new standard is necessary to protect them,” Nanda said.

“We are fully prepared to defend this standard in court.”

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