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Kentucky judge blocks vaccine mandate for federal contractors in three states

The mandate requires that federal contractors receive vaccinations against the Covid-19 virus.

FRANKFORT, Ky (CN) — A federal judge in Kentucky Tuesday temporarily blocked a vaccine mandate from applying to federal contractors and subcontractors in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled the Biden administration likely overstepped its authority when it issued the mandate.

“This is not a case about whether vaccines are effective. They are. Nor is this a case about whether the government, at some level, and in some circumstances, can require citizens to obtain vaccines. It can,” Van Tatenhove wrote in his 29-page opinion.

The judge said that the limited question before him was if the president had the authority to issue such a vaccine mandate as applied to federal contractors.

“In all likelihood, the answer to that question is no,” Van Tatenhove wrote.

The mandate in question requires all federal contractors to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by Jan 4, 2022.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron led the charge against the mandate. He filed his challenge to the rule on Nov. 4 and was joined by the state of Tennessee and two Ohio county sheriffs.  

“President Joe Biden signed an unlawful executive order to compel millions of Americans who work for government contractors to receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” the lawsuit states. “The mandate threatens the Commonwealth with the loss of millions of dollars in future contracting opportunities and will put undue pressure on the Commonwealth to create new policies, which threatens irreparable harm.”

The lawsuit argues Biden exceeded his authority in issuing the mandate and that federal agencies erred by not following proper administrative procedures in its implementation of the rule.

Van Tatenhove was unpersuaded by arguments from the federal government that the economic authority granted under the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act was sufficient to justify the mandate without the approval of Congress.

“While the statute grants to the president great discretion, it strains credulity that Congress intended the FPASA, a procurement statute, to be the basis for promulgating a public health measure such as mandatory vaccination,” wrote Van Tatenhove. “If a vaccination mandate has a close enough nexus to economy and efficiency in federal procurement, then the statute could be used to enact virtually any measure at the president’s whim under the guise of economy and efficiency.”

Finding that the there was likely an overreach by the Biden administration, Van Tatenhove determined that a preliminary injunction was warranted.

“On the record currently before the Court, there is a serious concern that Defendants have stepped into an area traditionally reserved to the States, and this provides an additional reason to temporarily enjoin the vaccine mandate,” Van Tatenhove wrote.

However, Van Tatenhove stopped short of issuing a nationwide injunction, and only applied his ruling to the states connected to the lawsuit before him.

In addition, the judge was not persuaded by the evidence presented that the relevant federal agencies had failed to follow proper procedures while implementing the mandate.

“Once again, the Court is asked to wrestle with important constitutional values implicated in the midst of a pandemic that lingers," Van Tatenhove. "These questions will not be finally resolved in the shadows. Instead, the consideration will continue with the benefit of full briefing and appellate review."

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