Challenges to President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private employers will be consolidated in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, a panel dominated by judges appointed by Republicans, reports the Associated Press.
The Cincinnati-based court was selected Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 in a random drawing using ping-pong balls, a process employed when challenges to certain federal agency actions are filed in multiple courts.
The selection could be good news for those challenging the administration’s vaccine requirement, which includes officials in 27 Republican-led states, employers and several conservative and business organizations. They argue the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have the authority to impose the mandate.
The challenges, along with some from unions that said the vaccine mandate didn’t go far enough, were made this month in 12 circuit courts. Under an arcane system, it was up to the clerk of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict litigation to select a ping-pong ball from a bin to choose where the cases would be heard.
It was a favorable outcome for Republicans. Eleven of the 16 full-time judges in the 6th Circuit were appointed by Republican presidents. Accounting for one of the Republican-appointed judges, Helene White, who often sides with judges appointed by Democrats and adding senior judges who are semi-retired but still hear cases, the split is 19-9 in favor of Republicans. Six of the full-time judges were appointed by former President Donald Trump.
Another court where a majority of judges were nominated by Republicans, the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, issued a ruling that put the mandate on hold.
Previously this year, the lottery had been used to assign just two cases. One involved fallout from a National Labor Relations Board ruling on an anti-union Twitter message by Tesla founder Elon Musk where objectors filed in two circuits. The other was over orders from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in which objectors filed in three.
The employer vaccine mandate is higher profile and further reaching. It calls for businesses with more than 100 workers to require employees to be vaccinated by Jan. 4 or wear masks and be tested weekly for COVID-19. Exemptions are provided for religious reasons and for those who work at home or only outdoors.
Because it’s an unusual rule from the workplace safety agency, there is no consensus among lawyers on how the challenges will go. OSHA has issued just 10 emergency rules in the half century since it was formed. Of the six challenged in court, only one survived intact.
The Biden administration has insisted it’s on strong legal footing. It also has the backing of the American Medical Association, which filed papers in support of the mandate.
Among those challenging the rule is a consortium of construction contractors. They say they want their workers vaccinated, but that a requirement only on larger companies is just pushing vaccine-hesitant workers to take jobs with companies that have fewer than 100 employees.