Doughty, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, expressed skepticism about the federal government’s ability to contain the pandemic, including through vaccine mandates.
“In the immortal words of President Ronald Reagan the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help,’” he wrote in the order’s second paragraph. “In order to help rid the United States of the COVID-19 virus, the government has imposed four vaccine mandates,” including the one for Head Start.
Still, he said the decision was not about the wisdom of the mandate, but the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.
Executive agencies “DO NOT have the power to impose the Head Start Mandate” without an act of Congress, he wrote.
Doughty’s order will remain in effect until the final resolution of the case or by orders in his court or by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments Friday on whether the order invalidating a vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers and the vaccine mandate for health care workers should stay in place.
Medical experts have urged vaccinations as the best method of preventing COVID-19. White House Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci told NBC News last month that the “real problem” with the current omicron variant wave was that many people eligible for vaccines have not received them.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, fewer than two-thirds of U.S. residents 5 and older are fully vaccinated, and only about one-third of those who are fully vaccinated have received a booster dose that is now recommended.
In Georgia, a little more than half the population is vaccinated. Only about 28% have gone on to receive a booster so far.
In addition to his ruling on the health care workers mandate, Doughty also struck down Biden’s pause of new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters last year, a major setback for the president’s climate change agenda.
Although he considers himself conservative, Doughty has said he does not consider politics when making judicial decisions.
Trump appointed Doughty in 2017 and the U.S. Senate approved him, 98-0, the following year.
The White House referred a request for comment to the Department of Health and Human Services. Representatives for HHS did not immediately respond.