Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Biden defends team worker vaccine rule, wants cases to be combined

Its private employer holds up on a vaccine mandate, the Biden administration wants several challenges to its workplace rule consolidated in a federal court and has asked for a decision early next week.

The U.S. Justice Department said in a court filing Monday that one of the federal circuit courts should be chosen at random on Nov. 16 to hear the cases.

At least 27 states and several businesses and unions filed a dozen legal challenges in at least six federal appeals courts after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released their rules last week. All states have a Republican governor or attorney general.

Over the weekend, judges at the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit US Court of Appeals blocked the rule from taking effect, saying it raises “serious statutory and constitutional issues.” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre expressed confidence on Monday that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate can withstand any legal challenge.

“It’s a right that we believe the Labor Department has,” Jean-Pierre told reporters during a news briefing. “We’re very confident about that.”

The order will apply to private businesses with more than 100 employees. Employees who don’t get shots by January 4 will have to wear masks and be tested weekly for the coronavirus. OSHA rules provide exemptions for workers who do not interact personally with coworkers or customers, as well as those who work outside, citing religious objections.

The Republican state attorney general and others sued on the grounds that the federal government does not have authority to make regulation, partly because COVID-19 is not a workplace-specific threat.

Jean-Pierre said the mandate was about keeping people safe and that Congress had empowered the Department of Labor to act with the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Vaccine mandates for some federal employees and the military are a key component. The Biden administration’s strategy to deal with the pandemic that has killed 750,000 people in the US

It has said that widespread vaccination is the fastest way out of the pandemic.

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“People should not wait” for vaccination, Jean-Pierre said.

The administration announced plans for the workplace rule in September and unveiled plans for November 4. Several Republican governors and state attorneys general indicated ahead of time that they would challenge it immediately, as they did with several federal lawsuits filed Friday.

The states filed in the most conservative appeals courts in the country, where the appointment of former President Donald Trump strengthened the Republican-appointed majority. It was not entirely clear whether the emergency stay Saturday issued by the 5th Circuit applies nationwide or just the states that filed in that case — Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

The 5th Circuit order read, “the order is pending further action by this court” but did not specifically state whether it applied only to the five states. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said it applies nationally, but said the filing in a separate court sought clarification Monday.

According to a state filing in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, “Although the Fifth Circuit’s order may be presumed to have nationwide effect, it does not make a clear statement at this point.” “In order to avoid any confusion and to ensure full protection of their rights, the petitioners respectfully request that this Court may file a similar order herein also.”

The group of states, businesses and organizations that challenged the rule in the 8th Circuit also called for a speedy review of their challenge to the workplace rule on Monday.

“Thousands of employers and lakhs of working families will feel its impact immediately. The court must act swiftly to prevent these illegal and unconstitutional injuries,” the groups said in court papers.

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Associated Press writers Josh Bock and Zeke Miller in Washington, DC, and Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.

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