A man wears an anti-vaccine button as people and teachers protest against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines required in New York City in the U.S. court in Manhattan in New York City, New York, USA, on Protest October 12th. 2021.
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A U.S. district court in Georgia on Tuesday halted the Biden government’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors, writing that the president has likely exceeded his powers.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia said the Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade group that represents the construction industry, are likely right that President Joe Biden exceeded his powers under the Procurement Act when he gave the mandate.
“In its practical application it acts as a public health regulator,” District Judge R. Stan Baker wrote in the order. “It will also have a huge impact on the economy as a whole, as it limits the ability of contractors and employees to work on federal contracts. Accordingly, it appears to be of tremendous economic and political importance,” wrote Baker.
The court said the mandate was “costly, arduous and likely to lead to a reduction in the workforce available”.
Biden issued an executive order on September 9 that required contractors to ensure their workers are vaccinated against Covid and adhere to masking and social distancing guidelines. The White House originally gave contractors until December 8 to meet the deadline, but later moved the deadline to January 4. The requirements apply to millions of workers across the US economy.
The court ordered the von Biden administration to cease enforcing the mandate “in all contracts covered in any state or territory of the United States of America.” The court’s decision to issue a statewide injunction comes a week after another Kentucky federal district court dropped enforcement in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.
Baker wrote in Tuesday’s order that “restricting legal protection to those pending before the court would be cumbersome and add to the confusion.” Even for contracts in other federal states, it would not relieve the builders’ association, he wrote.
The court’s injunction marks the latest blow to Biden government efforts to get companies to ensure their employees are vaccinated as public health officials face a winter surge in Covid cases and the arrival of the highly mutated omicrones Variants of the virus warn on US coasts.
The Biden government last month was forced to cease enforcing its vaccine and testing requirements for companies with 100 or more employees. The U.S. 5th District Court of Appeals in New Orleans ordered the government not to enforce the requirements until further notice, citing “serious constitutional concerns.”
The federal contractor mandate is stricter than the business requirements of the occupational health and safety authority. However, it allows companies to take additional safety measures for unvaccinated employees who have religious or medical exemptions, including wearing a mask or having regular tests for Covid.
Despite Tuesday’s order, some federal contractors like large airlines have been working for months to meet the requirements. Southwest Airlines told employees on Saturday that 93% of its 50,000+ employees have either uploaded vaccination cards or applied for exemptions.
Employees with exceptions may need to take regular tests or wear masks at work, the Dallas-based airline said. For its part, United Airlines implemented its own vaccination mandate in August and by early autumn more than 96% of its 67,000 employees had been vaccinated.
– CNBC’s Leslie Josephs contributed to this report.