ATLANTA — Georgia is among the states challenging Biden administration vaccine mandate policies, and several legal developments occurred this week involving lawsuits seeking to halt the mandates.
The state's Republican leadership, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr, have argued the Biden administration policies are overreaching, "illegal" uses of federal bureaucratic rulemaking.
Kemp has called the policies a "power-grab" that is "vilifying Americans for their personal choices."
The results in court so far have been mixed, most recently on Friday night with a federal appeals court in Ohio dissolving another federal appeals court's ruling that had one of the policies, a mandate for employees of companies with 100 or more workers to either get tested weekly or get vaccinated, on hold. With that policy now moving forward, companies - and their employees - reportedly have until Jan. 10 to be in compliance.
Meanwhile, Georgia gained a legal victory in one of the other lawsuits, and a partial victory in another of the lawsuits this week.
One important thing to understand with these lawsuits is that the rulings so far have concerned stays and injunctions against the mandates - these are not rulings on whether they are fundamentally legal or not, but rather whether or not they should be allowed to temporarily be in place while the courts consider the fundamental cases.
Here's what these lawsuits are, and where they stand. A rundown of the cases, with links to download original court documents, is also available at the website of the Georgia attorney general's office:
- What it is: A mandate to for employees at companies with 100+ workers to get tested weekly for COVID-19 or get vaccinated against the coronavirus, enforced through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
- Who it impacts: People who work at companies with 100 or more employees.
This is the most high-profile of the Biden administration policies - the one requiring potentially millions of people around the country to get tested weekly or get vaccinated.
Georgia, along with Florida and Alabama, filed suit at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta against the rule after it was issued in early November.
Before the 11th Circuit ruled on that lawsuit, a federal district court in Louisiana issued a nationwide stay against the OSHA mandate, which is a temporary action a court can take to put a policy on hold while its court case plays out.
Shortly after that, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans and covering the jurisdiction where the lower court ruling was made, upheld the stay against the OSHA mandate.
On Friday, Dec. 17, though, the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati dissolved the 5th Circuit's ruling for a stay, clearing the way for the policy to take effect until a final decision on the rule's legality.
The 6th Circuit was able to, in effect, overrule the 5th Circuit's ruling because a series of lawsuits across the country against the OSHA mandate were consolidated into a single case under the 6th Circuit's jurisdiction.
- Where things now stand: The OSHA rule is temporarily clear to remain in place. Georgia AG Carr said on Saturday, Dec. 18 that an application had been made to the Supreme Court for a stay to again temporarily put it on hold. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in this case on Jan. 7. Courts have not yet made any rulings about the fundamental legality of the mandate.
- What it is: An executive order issued by President Biden - Executive Order 14042 - that requires companies working on federal contracts or subcontractors working with those companies to comply with federal COVID-19 safety guidance, including employee vaccinations.
- Who it impacts: Employees at any company or institution that does contract work for the federal government, as well as employees of companies or institutions doing subcontracting work for whoever was originally awarded the contract.
This executive order was issued in early September, and Georgia, along with several other states as well as the University System of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Agriculture - state agencies that do federal contract work - filed suit in late October.
The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Georgia federal court in Augusta.
Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia and Augusta University were among the USG schools the lawsuit claimed would effectively be unable to work with the federal government under the policy.
The suit said Georgia Tech, for instance, had many research contracts with federal agencies such as the Department of Defense and NASA, and that the policy would require the school to see that its entire workforce is in compliance with the rules or risk losing the research contracts.
"If Georgia Tech is unable to 'affirmatively determine' that its employees working on government contracts will share no common areas with its remaining employees, nearly all of Georgia Tech’s on-campus employees are subject to the Contractor Mandate," it stated.
The Southern District of Georgia court issued a preliminary injunction against the executive order on Dec. 7, suspending enforcement of the federal contractor mandate nationwide.
On Friday, Dec. 17, the 11th Circuit appeals court effectively upheld the preliminary injunction blocking the federal contractor mandate, denying a request by the government to stay, or temporarily put on hold, the injunction.
- Where it stands: The federal contractor mandate is on hold due to the district court ruling and the subsequent appeals court ruling. It's not clear yet if the federal government will seek a stay of the injunction, to allow the mandate to temporarily move forward and be put in place, from the Supreme Court. Courts have not yet ruled on the fundamental legality of the executive order.
- What it is: A vaccine mandate for healthcare workers at facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs, issued through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Who it impacts: Most healthcare workers across the country.
This rule, which would require healthcare workers to be vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022, was announced as an emergency regulation in early November by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Georgia joined a coalition of 14 states led by Louisiana in a lawsuit against the policy in mid-November. At the end of November, a federal district court in Louisiana granted a preliminary injunction against the rule from being enforced.
On Wednesday, Dec. 15, the 5th Circuit in New Orleans issued a ruling that effectively went both ways on whether the rule can temporarily take effect.
The appeals court granted the federal government's request for a stay of the original preliminary injunction, allowing the rule to go forward, but denied a stay of the injunction in the 14 states that are party to the lawsuit - including Georgia.
It is worth noting that Florida filed its own lawsuit against this rule, which a federal district court in Florida and the 11th Circuit - the Atlanta appeals court that covers Georgia, Alabama and Florida - denied a preliminary injunction for.
- Where it stands: The rule can temporarily go into effect in about half the country. It cannot go into effect in Georgia and the 13 other states that are party to the Louisiana lawsuit, and there are 10 other states involved in a separate lawsuit in Missouri where the rule cannot go into effect. On Thursday, Dec. 16, the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court for a stay against the preliminary injunctions to allow the rule to temporarily go into effect in the 24 states where it is currently barred. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Jan. 7. Courts have not yet ruled on the fundamental legality of the rule.
- What it is: A vaccine and mask mandate for the employees of organizations and programs that receive federal Head Start funding.
- Who it impacts: Educators, staff, volunteers and contractors who work with Head Start funded programs and services.
This rule was implemented by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Head Start educational agency, in late November.
According to its website, Head Start "administers grant funding and oversight to 1,600 public and private nonprofit and for-profit agencies that provide Head Start services in local communities. Head Start and Early Head Start grantees provide services to over a million children every year, in every U.S. state and territory, in farm worker camps, and in over 155 tribal communities."
Georgia joined a lawsuit against the new standards issued for Head Start funding with 23 other states, led by Louisiana, on Dec. 21.
- Where it stands: On Saturday, Jan. 1, a federal judge in Louisiana issued an injunction from the rules taking effect in Georgia and the other 23 states that are party to the lawsuit. A similar ruling was issued New Year's Eve solely affecting the state of Texas. It has not been taken up by a U.S. Appeals Court yet.