(Reuters) -A federal judge in Texas ruled on Friday that President Joe Biden could not require federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and blocked the government from disciplining employees who failed to comply.
Biden issued an order requiring about 3.5 million workers to get vaccinated by Nov. 22 barring a religious or medical accommodation – or else face discipline or firing.
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 former President Donald Trump, said the government could protect public health with less invasive measures, such as masking and social distancing.
The ruling is the latest in a series of court decisions to go against government vaccine requirements.
In mid-January, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the president’s COVID-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses, a policy the conservative justices deemed an improper imposition on the lives and health of many Americans. The court allowed a separate federal vaccine requirement for healthcare facilities.
A third major vaccine requirement aimed at employees of federal contractors was blocked by a federal judge in December.
The Biden administration has struggled to contain COVID-19, which has killed more than 800,000 people in the United States and weighed heavily on the economy.
Many large employers such as United Airlines and Tyson Foods Inc have touted their success in using mandates to get nearly all staff vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Supreme Court ruling that blocked the mandate for larger businesses prompted some employers, including Starbucks, to abandon vaccine requirements for staff.
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Diane Bartz; writing by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Howard Goller)