Federal Court Partially Lifts Ban on Biden Administration’s COVID Vaccine Mandate for Contractors

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
August 29, 2022 Updated: August 30, 2022

A U.S. court has lifted part of the ban on the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors, finding a lower court went too far in blocking the vaccination requirements across the nation—but also predicting that the challenge to the mandate will probably succeed.

U.S. District Judge R. Stan Baker, a Trump appointee, in December 2021 blocked President Joe Biden’s mandate in all 50 states, finding the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act likely doesn’t give Biden the power to issue such mandates.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said on Aug. 26 that it was correct to block the mandate in some states, but not all.

One of the plaintiffs, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), has workers all over the country, Baker said, necessitating a nationwide preliminary injunction.

“Stretching logic, the court reasoned that if it ‘were to enjoin the enforcement of the mandate only in the Southern District of Georgia or only in Georgia, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah, and West Virginia,’ then “members would not have injunctive relief as to covered contracts in other states.’ But injunctive relief operates on specific parties, not geographic territories, and identifying the plaintiff States and trade association members is possible,” the appeals court panel said.

“The district court’s other reason for a nationwide remedy was that narrower relief ‘would prove unwieldy and would only cause more confusion.’ This statement is ambiguous: it may reflect either the lack of uniformity that would result from a well-tailored injunction, or the difficulty of structuring an injunction that allows enforcement against nonparties while still providing relief to the plaintiffs. The former is an inappropriate consideration, and the latter is unsupported by the district court’s analysis or the record.”

Its decision rolls back the nationwide injunction, only keeping it in place for states that are part of the lawsuits. Those are Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah, and West Virginia. Additionally, members of the ABC, no matter where they are, can’t be forced to comply with the mandate.

Other rulings, though, remain in place for four additional states: Arizona, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Judges Split

U.S. Circuit Judge Britt Grant, a Trump appointee, wrote the ruling, concluding that plaintiffs will “likely succeed.” The two other judges penned separate opinions.

J.L. Edmondson, a Reagan appointee, concurred, writing in a one-page opinion that he thinks the plaintiffs “have a reasonable chance to succeed” in the case but that the nationwide injunction wasn’t proper.

R. Lanier Anderson III, a Carter appointee, wrote a lengthier opinion concurring with that piece, but diverged when considering whether Biden has the authority to issue such a mandate.

“I do not think Appellees have demonstrated that the President lacks authority to require agencies to insert a clause into their future contracts and solicitations that require those federal contractors and their subcontractors to require COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees who either work on federal contracts or work in the same location as employees who work on federal contracts,” he wrote.

The Federal Property and Administrative Services Act gives the president authority to “prescribe policies and directives” to ensure “an economical and efficient system for” procurement and contracting, which “clearly authorizes” Biden’s mandate, Anderson asserted.

ABC Responds

ABC in a statement focused on how the appeals court upheld the block on the mandate as it concerned the group and its members.

The decision “is a major victory for ABC and our members as the court has made it clear that ABC members and state plaintiffs ‘need not comply with the vaccination requirement in their capacity as contractors, and they are not responsible for including that requirement in lower-tier subcontracts,'” ABC said.

“ABC will continue to lead efforts to push back on the Biden administration’s executive overreach harming federal contractors with respect to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other anti-competitive and costly policies targeting federal contractors, such as the proposed rule implementing President Biden’s Executive Order 14063, which requires controversial union-favoring government-mandated project labor agreements on federal construction projects of $35 million or more.”

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.