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DOJ: COVID vaccine mandate removal by appeals court could cost ‘hundreds of lives per day’

John Minor Wisdom U.S. Courthouse, home of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Bobak Ha'Eri/CC-By-SA-3.0
John Minor Wisdom U.S. Courthouse, home of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Department of Justice lawyers argued Monday that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should reverse course and allow the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for all large companies to remain in place until the court can hold a formal hearing to determine the fate of the policy.

The administration lawyers said blocking the mandate, which was announced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration last week, would “cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day,” according to court filings.

On Saturday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans blocked the rules nationwide, saying the OSHA vaccine mandate posed “grave statutory and constitutional issues.” The ruling, issued by Judges Edith Jones, Kyle Duncan and Kurt Engelhardt, temporarily blocks the OSHA rules, which would force all businesses with more than 100 employees to impose a vaccine mandate for all staff and strict masking and weekly testing requirements for all unvaccinated workers.

The policy would apply to more than 84 million workers across the country, but it is unclear how many of those have not yet been vaccinated.

The challenge to the administration rules was brought by the attorneys general of Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Louisiana, along with several businesses. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry praised the court’s decision to block the mandate.

"The Court’s action not only halts Biden from moving forward with his unlawful overreach, but it also commands the judicious review we sought,” Landry said Saturday in a statement celebrating the ruling. “The President will not impose medical procedures on the American people without the checks and balances afforded by the Constitution."

Landry signed onto the suit on Friday. On Thursday, Landry announced that he was leading a separate challenge of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for all federal contractors.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said in the interest of preserving worker safety, the Department of Justice will vigorously defend against each challenge to OSHA’s authority to impose vaccine mandates for large businesses and federal contractors.

“The Department of Labor has a responsibility to keep workers safe and the legal authority to do so,” Jean-Pierre said during a media briefing Monday, noting that Congress gave OSHA the authority to enact workplace safety requirements more than 50 years ago.

Jean-Pierre added that COVID-19 continues to pose a “grave danger” to American workers as an average of 1,151 people die from the disease each week.

Business owners across the country have signed onto lawsuits challenging OSHA’s authority.

One of the plaintiffs in the case taken up by the 5th Circuit is Brandon Trosclair, the owner and operator of the Ralph’s Market grocery chain in south Louisiana. Trosclair said that the federal rule could force him to fire essential workers who put their personal safety at risk to keep his stores open over the last two years — workers who were hailed as heroes in the early days of the pandemic.

“I am faced with an incomprehensible choice imposed upon me by the federal government: force these workers, whose dedication and skills have fueled my business’ success, to take the COVID vaccine – or show them the door,” Trosclair said in a statement issued by the Liberty Justice Center, one of the law firms representing the business plaintiffs in the case.

Dozens of Republican state attorneys general have filed legal challenges to the OSHA rules since they were announced last week. The 5th Circuit Court is one of the most conservative appeals courts in the country, and the three judges on the case were all appointed by Republican presidents.

Department of Justice lawyers are asking the courts to consolidate the cases and randomly select a venue to hear it on Nov. 16, according to the Associated Press.

Copyright 2021 WRKF

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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