(Adds more from White House, ruling, Arizona attorney general
WASHINGTON, Jan 21 (Reuters) - A judge in Texas ruled on
Friday that President Joe Biden could not require federal
employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus and blocked
the U.S. government from disciplining employees who failed to
It was the latest setback to White House efforts to require
various groups of American workers to get vaccinated.
Biden had issued an order requiring about 3.5 million
government workers to get vaccinated by Nov. 22 barring a
religious or medical accommodation -- or else face discipline or
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown said the question was
whether Biden could "require millions of federal employees to
undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment.
That, under the current state of the law as just recently
expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far."
Brown, based in Galveston and appointed by then-President
Donald Trump, said the government could protect public health
with less invasive measures, such as masking and social
The judge's ruling is the latest in a series of court
decisions to go against government vaccine requirements.
The White House said more than 93% of federal employees have
received at least one vaccination and 98% have been vaccinated
or are seeking a religious or medical exemption.
"We are confident in our legal authority," White House
spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in response to the judge's ruling.
The Justice Department on Friday said it would appeal the
ruling. The government has noted numerous other courts that had
rejected similar challenges and that federal agencies have said
they will not discipline or punish employees with pending
The judge said it was his understanding that the government
was going to be begin disciplining non-compliant employees
imminently. The White House said this month https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-wants-us-agencies-mandate-covid-19-testing-unvaccinated-employees-by-feb-2022-01-11
it wanted federal agencies to begin mandating regular COVID-19
tests weekly by Feb. 15.
Brian Fouche, a survey statistician with the Department of
Commerce with 16 years government experience, was told in a Jan.
19 letter that he would be suspended for 14 days beginning Jan.
30 because he refused to disclose his vaccination status,
according to court documents.
The letter from the U.S. Census Bureau informed Fouche that
his "misconduct is very serious and will not be tolerated,"
according to a copy of the letter in court records. The letter
said failure to comply with the vaccine requirements could lead
to his dismissal.
The order covers federal workers in the executive branch --
but did not apply to postal workers or legislative or judicial
In mid-January, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the
president's COVID-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large
businesses, a policy conservative justices deemed an improper
imposition on the lives and health of many Americans. The court
allowed a separate federal vaccine requirement for healthcare
A third major vaccine requirement aimed at employees of
federal contractors like airlines and manufacturers was blocked
by a federal judge in December.
COVID-19 has killed more than 860,000 people in the United
States in the two-year-long pandemic and has weighed heavily on
Many large employers such as United Airlines and Tyson Foods
Inc have touted their success in using mandates to get nearly
all staff vaccinated. The Supreme Court ruling that blocked the
mandate for larger businesses prompted some employers, including
Starbucks, to abandon vaccine requirements for staff.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich praised the ruling
Friday, vowing to continue "to fight to protect your liberties."
(Reporting by David Shepardson, Diane Bartz and Jeff Mason;
writing by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Howard
Goller, Grant McCool and Jonathan Oatis)