Judge halts vaccine mandate affecting colleges and universities

(UPDATED, 6:10 p.m., with comments from the State Board.)

A federal judge has blocked a Biden administration COVID-19 vaccine mandate — one with far-reaching implications for Idaho universities.

The nationwide injunction, issued Tuesday, affects federal contractors. And since Boise State University, the University of Idaho and Idaho State University receive $89 million in federal contracts, the executive order would have applied to most university employees, and students who work for universities.

These employees had faced a Jan. 4 vaccination deadline. But the injunction, issued by Georgia-based U.S. District Judge R. Stan Baker, puts the order on hold while seven states seek to overturn it permanently.

Idaho is among these plaintiffs.

“Yet another one of President Biden’s vaccine mandates have been temporarily shut down because the states – including Idaho – took a stand against his unprecedented government overreach into Americans’ lives and businesses,” Idaho Gov. Brad Little said in a news release, after the injunction was issued. “We will continue to press forward in our fight against the federal government’s bad policies.”

The State Board of Education is also a party to the lawsuit. In a statement late Tuesday, State Board President Kurt Liebich applauded the injunction.

“Since the mandate was issued, our institutions have been struggling to develop plans to comply, and the preliminary injunction gives us breathing room to chart a proper path forward without forcing employees to choose between getting vaccinated or potentially losing their job,” Liebich said.

The universities have for months encouraged staff and students to get vaccinated — a message Liebich echoed Tuesday. But they had never taken steps toward a mandate until November, when the State Board directed the universities to work on complying with the federal order, pending a decision from the court.

In a 28-page ruling issuing the injunction, Baker suggested the states could ultimately prevail in court, and noted the implications of the Biden order.

“(It) goes beyond the administration and management of procurement and contracting; in its practical application (requiring a significant number of individuals across the country working in a broad range of positions and in numerous different industries to be vaccinated or face a serious risk of losing their job), it operates as a regulation of public health,” he wrote. “Accordingly, it appears to have vast economic and political significance.”

Tuesday’s injunction is the latest courtroom setback for the White House. Vaccine mandates affecting private businesses are on hold. Federal mandates for health care workers have been blocked, too, in response to another lawsuit Idaho joined.

More about the injunction from The Hill.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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