ST. LOUIS — A federal judge on Monday blocked President Joe Biden’s administration from enforcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate on thousands of health care workers in 10 states that had brought the first legal challenge against the requirement.
The court order said that the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid had no clear authority from Congress to enact the vaccine mandate for providers participating in the two government health care programs for the elderly, disabled and poor.
The preliminary injunction by St. Louis-based U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp applies to a coalition of suing states that includes Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Similar lawsuits also are pending in other states.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt held a press conference Monday afternoon to make a statement in response to the judge's ruling.
"What the court said today was that the Biden administration has no authority, there's no statutory authority for them to do this – none whatsoever,” he said during the press conference.
Schmitt said he expects the Department of Justice to appeal the ruling and expects this case to go to the Supreme Court.
“If you talk to the men and women in the health care field, who by the way a year ago were being honored as heroes and are threatened to be put on the unemployment line, they welcome this news,” he said.
The federal rule requires COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million workers nationwide in about 76,000 health care facilities and home health care providers that get funding from the government health programs. Workers are to receive their first dose by Dec. 6 and their second shot by Jan. 4.
The court order against the health care vaccine mandate comes after the Biden administration suffered a similar setback for a broader policy. A federal court previously placed a hold on a separate rule requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to ensure their workers get vaccinated or else wear masks and get tested weekly for the coronavirus.
Biden’s administration contends federal rules supersede state policies prohibiting vaccine mandates and are essential to slowing the pandemic.
But the judge in the health care provider case wrote that federal officials likely overstepped their legal powers.
“CMS seeks to overtake an area of traditional state authority by imposing an unprecedented demand to federally dictate the private medical decisions of millions of Americans. Such action challenges traditional notions of federalism," Schelp wrote in his order.
Even under an exceedingly broad interpretation of federal powers, “Congress did not clearly authorize CMS to enact the politically and economically vast, federalism-altering, and boundary-pushing mandate,” Schelp wrote.
Read the judge's full ruling in the document below: