JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – A federal judge on Monday blocked President Joe Biden’s administration from enforcing a mandate for coronavirus vaccine on thousands of health workers in 10 states who had brought the first legal challenge to the claim.
The court ruling said the Federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid had no clear authority from Congress to adopt the vaccine mandate for providers participating in the two public health programs for the elderly, disabled and poor.
The preliminary injunction from St. Louis-based U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp applies to a coalition of plaintiff states that includes Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. All of these states have either a Republican Attorney General or a Governor. Similar lawsuits are pending in other states.
The federal rule requires COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million nationwide workers in about 76,000 health facilities and home care providers receiving funding from government health programs. Workers must receive their first dose by December 6 and their second shot before January 4.
The ruling against the health service’s vaccine mandate comes after Biden’s administration suffered a similar setback for a broader policy. A federal court has previously set a team on a separate rule that requires companies with more than 100 employees to ensure that their employees are vaccinated or wear masks and are tested weekly for coronavirus.
The bid’s administration claims federal rules replace state policies banning vaccine mandates and are crucial to curbing the pandemic that has killed more than 775,000 people in the United States. About three-fifths of the U.S. population is already fully vaccinated.
But the judge in the case of nurses wrote that federal officials were likely to exceed their legal powers.
“The CMS seeks to overtake an area of traditional state authority by imposing an unprecedented requirement to federally dictate the private medical decisions of millions of Americans. Such an action challenges traditional notions of federalism,” Schelp wrote in his order.
Even under an extremely broad interpretation of federal powers, Congress did not clearly authorize the CMS to adopt “this politically and economically enormous, federalism-changing and cross-border mandate,” wrote Schelp, who was appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump.
Although a vaccine requirement may make sense for long-term care facilities, Schelp wrote, the CMS lacks evidence to impose it on other health care providers and ignored evidence that the mandate could endanger understaffed facilities. The judge also said that the CMS unfairly circumvented the requirements for public announcement and comments when he issued the emergency rule, which “feeds into the very hesitation with the vaccine that the CMS recognizes is so intimidating.”
Officials at CMS had no immediate comment on the preliminary injunction. The Ministry of Justice, which defended the rule, declined to comment.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who presided over the trial, said the ruling “pushes back on the abuse of power” from those who “use the coronavirus as a tool” to control humans.
Officials in several states also praised the court’s decision. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said “nursing homes are at risk of being closed” if the mandate remains.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said the vaccine is the best defense against COVID-19, but medical providers “deserve the freedom and ability to make their own informed health decisions.”
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