A sign at the University of Georgia encourages students to get their vaccines. A vaccine mandate for employees and contractors who do federal work there and at Georgia Tech will be temporarily blocked following an order from a federal judge in Augusta. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
This story was updated at 6 p.m.
A federal judge in Augusta has temporarily blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate set to go into effect for federal contractors next month.
The decision, which will have a nationwide impact, comes in response to a lawsuit filed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Attorney General Chris Carr, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents and leaders from six other states.
U.S. District Judge R. Stan Baker of the Southern District of Georgia agreed with the plaintiffs that President Joe Biden’s mandate exceeded the White House’s constitutional authority.
“Even in times of crisis this Court must preserve the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government act within the bounds of their constitutionally granted authorities,” the Trump-nominated judge wrote. “Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that, while the public indisputably ‘has a strong interest in combating the spread of [COVID-19],’ that interest does not permit the government to ‘act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.’”
Kemp celebrated the news on Twitter.
“Georgia is now 3 for 3 in our fight against Biden’s unconstitutional vaccine mandates!” Kemp posted. “This nationwide injunction for federal contractors will provide necessary relief to many Georgians who were in fear of being forced to choose between this vaccine and their livelihood.”
Biden signed the executive order instituting the mandate in September. Originally, contractors and those who work “in connection with” them had until Dec. 8 to be fully vaccinated, but the deadline was later pushed back to Jan. 18.
In Georgia, the debate centered on public universities, which receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts each year. In order to keep that money flowing, the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech told workers they would need to comply with the mandate in October.
Other public schools would not have been affected, said American Association of University Professors Georgia chapter president Matthew Boedy.
“While I am disappointed the legal process has taken this turn, there was already limited benefit to college campuses in Georgia as only a few had contracts that forced the vaccine mandate,” he said. “While I believe many of my fellow faculty and staff are fully vaccinated, this mandate would have pushed more to get the shot, and so made those schools more protected. Hopefully many had already gotten a shot and those who are scheduled to because of the mandate will follow through despite today’s ruling.”
For now, workers who have not gotten the shot are off the hook, but this decision is not the end of the story, said Georgia State University law professor Anthony Michael Kreis.
“The administration will appeal to the 11th Circuit for sure,” he said. “It’s hard to say what the timing will look like. My guess is that they’re going to try to get this up to the Supreme Court as quickly as they can so that they can get some kind of national resolution, because if the whole goal is getting folks vaccinated, particularly in the wintertime and particularly as these new variants are popping up, they’re not going to want this to linger for weeks on end.”
The high court has ruled on vaccine mandates in the past. Late last month, they denied an appeal from Boston hospital workers who did not want to be vaccinated, and the month before, they blocked a similar push in Maine, but the order out of Georgia is based on different circumstances than those cases, Kreis said.
“The court has really been hesitant to touch the state level, liberty-based claims,” he said. “That might be somewhat of an indication that they may be somewhat hesitant to overturn the Biden administration’s requirements, but at the same time, the nature of the claims are slightly different, and so they might find some light in between them in order to deal a blow to the Biden administration here.”
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