The Supreme Court’s Recent Ruling
In a significant legal move, the Supreme Court has effectively reset the precedent for vaccine mandates by the Biden administration. This action comes as a response to the administration’s decision to rescind its vaccine mandates for federal employees and military service members.
The court’s decision to set aside previous lower court rulings on Monday has rendered these disputes moot, paving the way for a fresh legal approach in potential future vaccine mandates.
Contradictory Lower Court Decisions
Before the Supreme Court’s intervention, lower courts had issued conflicting judgments on the vaccine mandates. These included differing views on the ability of federal employees to challenge the constitutionality of the mandate.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and the 5th Circuit had opposing stances on whether challenges should go through the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) or be directly addressed in court.
This divergence was highlighted in cases brought by a Navy civilian employee and an organization called Feds for Medical Freedom, among other plaintiffs.
Rescinding the Mandates
President Biden withdrew the executive order establishing the federal employee vaccine mandate in early May, a move that came before the Supreme Court could deliberate on the cases. Similarly, a military vaccine mandate, which faced an injunction from the 6th Circuit Court against its enforcement for religious objectors, was also withdrawn.
This occurred after Congress passed legislation instructing the Defense Secretary to rescind the mandate.
The Administration’s Legal Strategy
The Biden administration advocated for a Munsingwear vacatur in all three cases. This legal tool allows for the setting aside of a lower ruling in instances of mootness.
While the Navy employee who lost in the lower court agreed with this approach, victorious plaintiffs in the other cases opposed it. They argued that the administration had deliberately mooted its own case, negating the application of Munsingwear vacatur.
Plaintiffs’ Argument Against Vacatur
The plaintiffs’ attorney highlighted the administration’s strategy, “Petitioners ask this Court to endorse a ‘heads we win, tails you get vacated’ version of Munsingwear, where they can litigate to the hilt in both district and circuit court and—only if they lose—then decline to seek substantive review from this Court and instead moot the case and ask this Court to erase the circuit court loss from the books.”
Justice Jackson’s Dissent
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, known for her critical stance on such legal maneuvers, dissented in two of the three cases. In her view, “the party seeking vacatur has not established equitable entitlement to that remedy.”
Jackson agreed to the administration’s request in the third case, citing the Supreme Court’s established practices.
The Administration’s Defense
The Biden administration defended its decision to end the federal employee mandate, citing the diminishing severity of the pandemic as the primary reason.
The Justice Department stated, “The President revoked EO 14,043 because of the waning of the pandemic, not any effort to evade judicial review or gain litigation advantage.”
This ruling by the Supreme Court marks a turning point in the legal landscape surrounding vaccine mandates, effectively providing a clean slate for future legal challenges and interpretations.
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