An order that was handed down by Judge Maurice A. Ross was a response to a lawsuit filed by the D.C. Police Union and other groups that opposed Mayor Muriel Bowser’s mandate. Bowser in August of last year ordered city government employees to provide proof of vaccination although some workers could seek a medical or religious exemption to the shot.
“A vaccine mandate is not an everyday exercise of power,” Ross wrote in his 17-page ruling (pdf). “It is instead a significant encroachment into the life—and health—of an employee. It is strikingly unlike any other workplace regulations typically imposed, as it ‘cannot be undone at the end of the workday.’ Thus, there is an expectation that a vaccine mandate must come from a legislative body.”
Ross also argued that the legal “system does not permit the Mayor to act unlawfully even in the pursuit of desirable ends,” including curbing COVID-19, adding that “the Mayor lacks legal authority to impose a vaccine mandate on Plaintiffs.”
The judge rejected city lawyers’ arguments that Bowser could impose a vaccine mandate in her capacity to regulate occupational and workplace hazards. The Biden administration made a similar claim to the U.S. Supreme Court last year on its vaccine mandate for private businesses before the court struck the rule down in January.
“Although COVID-19 is a risk that can occur in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most,” Ross wrote in his order.
It means the city can’t enforce the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Meanwhile, disciplinary actions that were taken to enforce compliance can be reversed, according to Ross’s ruling.
The DC Police Union praised the decision and said it will ensure that its officers won’t be terminated or forced to take the vaccine.
“Had the Mayor just engaged the Union in good faith bargaining, we would have reached a reasonable compromise that protected everyone’s interests,” Gregg Pemberton, the chairman of the union, said in a statement. “Now, all of our members can go back to do the necessary work of trying to protect our communities from crime and violence without unlawful threats of discipline and termination.”
The office of Bowser, a Democrat, issued a statement Friday to WUSA9 in response to the ruling.
“We are reviewing the Court’s ruling, and believe that the judge misunderstood the strength and diversity of the authorities we relied upon in issuing the employee vaccination mandate,” the statement said, adding that “going forward, we will comply with the Court’s orders as we continue encouraging our community to access life-saving vaccines.”
Bowser’s statement further claimed that her office believes that “COVID-19 vaccines work” and “save lives.” Some recent studies, however, have suggested the opposite may be true.