A federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide ruling Friday that President Joe Biden could not require federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Biden issued an order requiring about 3.5 million workers to get vaccinated by Nov. 22 or seek a religious or medical accommodation or face discipline or firing.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown said in his Friday order that at issue was whether the president "can, with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment."
He added, “That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far."
Brown, based in Galveston and appointed by President Donald Trump, said the government could protect public health with less invasive measures, such as masking and social distancing.
The Justice Department said it would appeal the ruling.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said 98% of federal workers are vaccinated or have sought medical or religious exemptions. "We are confident in our legal authority," Psaki said in response to the judge's ruling.
The judge said it was his understanding that the government was going to be begin disciplining noncompliant employees imminently.
Brian Fouche, a survey statistician with the Department of Commerce with 16 years government experience, was told in a Jan. 19 letter that he would be suspended for 14 days beginning Jan. 30 because he refused to disclose his vaccination status, according to court documents.
The letter from the U.S. Census Bureau informed Fouche that his "misconduct is very serious and will not be tolerated," according to a copy of the letter in court records. The letter said failure to comply with the vaccine requirements could lead to his dismissal.
The judge's ruling is the latest in a series of court decisions to go against government vaccine requirements.
In mid-January, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the president's COVID-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses, a policy conservative justices deemed an improper imposition on the lives and health of many Americans. The court allowed a separate federal vaccine requirement for healthcare facilities.
A third major vaccine requirement aimed at employees of federal contractors was blocked by a federal judge in December.
Many large private employers,such as United Airlines and Tyson Foods, have touted their success in using mandates to get nearly all staff vaccinated. The Supreme Court ruling that blocked the mandate for larger businesses prompted some employers, including Starbucks, to abandon vaccine requirements for staff.
The suit was brought by the group Feds for Medical Freedom.
(Adds details from letter warning employee of possible dismissal)
By David Shepardson and Tom Hals
Jan 21 (Reuters) - A judge in Texas ruled on Friday that President Joe Biden could not require federal employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus and blocked the U.S. government from disciplining employees who failed to comply.
Biden issued an order requiring about 3.5 million workers to get vaccinated by Nov. 22 barring a religious or medical accommodation -- or else face discipline or firing.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown said the question was whether Biden could "require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment. That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far."
(Reporting by David Shepardson, Diane Bartz and Jeff Mason; writing by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Howard Goller and Grant McCool)
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