Federal judge blocks Biden vaccine mandate for Head Start workers in 24 states

By: - January 4, 2022 1:16 pm

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in Grand Rapids, Oct. 2, 2020 | Andrew Roth

A Louisiana federal judge has put a hold on President Joe Biden’s mandate that Head Start workers be vaccinated against COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, a former President Trump appointee who previously ruled against a vaccine mandate for health care workers, issued a preliminary injunction on New Year’s Day restricting the executive branch from enforcing in 24 states a mandate for Head Start, a federal pre-K program for low-income families.

The mandate called for all employees, volunteers and contractors with Head Start to be fully vaccinated by the end of January. Children under 5 who attend the program are not yet eligible to be vaccinated and at risk of COVID-19 infections.

A group of 24 Republican state attorneys general, led by Louisiana’s Jeff Landry and including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio and Tennessee, challenged the ruling last month.

Doughty expressed skepticism about the federal government’s ability to contain the pandemic, including through vaccine mandates.

“In the immortal words of President Ronald Reagan the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help,’” he wrote in the order’s second paragraph. “In order to help rid the United States of the COVID-19 virus, the government has imposed four vaccine mandates,” including the one for Head Start.

Still, he said the decision was not about the wisdom of the mandate, but the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

Executive agencies “DO NOT have the power to impose the Head Start Mandate” without an act of Congress, he wrote.

Doughty’s order will remain in effect until the final resolution of the case or by orders in his court or by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Friday on whether the order invalidating a vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers and the vaccine mandate for health care workers should stay in place.

Medical experts have urged vaccinations as the best method of preventing COVID-19. White House Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci told NBC News last month that the “real problem” with the current omicron variant wave was that many people eligible for vaccines have not received them.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, fewer than two-thirds of U.S. residents 5 and older are fully vaccinated, and only about one-third of those who are fully vaccinated have received a booster dose that is now recommended.

In addition to his ruling on the health care workers mandate, Doughty also struck down Biden’s pause of new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters last year, a major setback for the president’s climate change agenda.

Although he considers himself conservative, Doughty has said he does not consider politics when making judicial decisions.

Trump appointed Doughty in 2017 and the U.S. Senate approved him, 98-0, the following year.

The White House referred a request for comment to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Representatives for HHS did not immediately respond.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.