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Fifth Circuit overturns nationwide injunction on vaccine mandate for health care workers

A federal appeals court Wednesday overruled a lower court’s nationwide injunction against a Biden administration mandate that required healthcare workers at federally funded facilities to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

In the underlying lawsuit, a federal district court issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against the mandate, which was being challenged by 14 states’ attorneys general.

The mandate would cut federal funding to Medicare- and Medicaid-certified hospitals, hospices and other care facilities if they employ unvaccinated workers.

But the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which hears appeals from the federal courts in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — was unconvinced that the lower court justified its injunction’s wide scope.

“The question posed is whether one district court should make a binding judgment for the entire country,” wrote the panel of three judges, who issued an unsigned “per curiam” opinion representing their views as one voice.

Noting that the Fifth Circuit has permitted one federal judge to issue nationwide policies in a 2015 immigration lawsuit filed by the state of Texas, the appellate panel differentiated the present vaccine mandate case from the immigration one, where there exists a “constitutional command for ‘uniform’ immigration laws.”

“Lacking is either the constitutional uniformity principle in Texas or that case’s concern that patchwork rulings would undermine an injunction limited to certain jurisdictions,” the panel wrote.

The 14 states challenging the mandate before the Fifth Circuit are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia.

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With this injunction overturned, the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate remains in effect in 26 states. The 14 states suing in the case before the Fifth Circuit, and 10 states that successfully sought an injunction for the mandate in late November, are temporarily exempted.

In that case, a Missouri federal judge said the mandate “challenges traditional notions of federalism.”

On Monday, Dec. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to issue an injunction requested by New York healthcare workers who challenged a state mandate requiring them to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

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A healthcare worker prepares a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.