Eleventh Circuit Narrows Injunction in Federal Contractor Vaccine Mandate Challenge

On August 26, 2022, in Georgia v. Biden, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled the December 7, 2021, nationwide preliminary injunction issued by the US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia against President Biden’s federal contractor vaccine mandate was overly broad in its jurisdictional reach. A preliminary injunction is a court order stopping a party from continuing the challenged action before the case can be fully briefed and decided. To succeed at the preliminary injunction stage, a party must show they are likely to succeed in the lawsuit, would suffer irreparable harm without the injunction and that the injunction would not be against the public interest.

In Georgia v. Biden – one of many legal challenges to the mandate filed across the country – the district court found the plaintiffs (Georgia, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and a construction trade association) were likely to win on their claim that the mandate exceeded the president’s authority. The district court found several irreparable costs of complying with the contractor vaccine mandate, including lost employees and administrative resources needed to identify covered employees and track their vaccination status. Beyond costs, the district court opined that “workplace strife” and “untold economic upheaval” introduced by the mandate made the injunction firmly in the public interest. With these findings in mind, the district court ordered the federal government not to enforce the mandate while the case played out in court. As to scope, the district court determined the trade association’s broad national membership and the many federal contracts that involve those members and seven plaintiff states made nationwide applicability necessary.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit agreed with the district court’s preliminary injunction analysis but took exception to the scope. Specifically, the appeals court declared nationwide injunctions a “drastic form of relief” that “push against the boundaries of judicial power” by giving one district court among many across the country “an outsized role in the federal system.” Accordingly, the Eleventh Circuit revised the injunction to stop enforcement of the mandate only against the plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit — those seven states and members of the construction trade association.

While the Eleventh Circuit’s decision here narrowed the scope of the injunction previously issued in Georgia v. Biden, separate injunctions blocking enforcement of the federal contractor vaccine mandate remain in place in many states through other pending lawsuits. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court may have the final say on legality and scope. At this point, the Biden administration is not enforcing the federal vaccine mandate. But federal contractors and subcontractors should continue to monitor the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force for any changes to this policy.

Eleventh Circuit Order on Federal Contractor Vaccine Mandate »