December 2nd, 2021
Since President Biden took office in January, federal courts across the country have ruled against his administration time and again, finding many of his policies violate the Constitution. The Biden legal defeats have extended nationwide, impacting a wide range of issues — most recently vaccine mandates.
On Tuesday, federal judges blocked the administration from enforcing two mandates requiring millions of Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
In one case, Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction halting the start of Biden’s national vaccine mandate for health care workers. The injunction temporarily blocks the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) from enforcing the order.
“There is no question that mandating a vaccine to 10.3 million health care workers is something that should be done by Congress, not a government agency,” Doughty wrote. “It is not clear that even an act of Congress mandating a vaccine would be constitutional.”
Doughty’s ruling applies nationwide except in 10 states, where CMS was already blocked from enforcing the mandate due to a separate order issued on Monday by a federal court in Missouri. The judge in St. Louis sided with the 10 states which joined a lawsuit against Biden’s requirement that all health workers in hospitals and nursing homes be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.
In another adverse ruling, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove of the Eastern District of Kentucky blocked the administration from implementing its vaccine mandate for federal government contractors and subcontractors.
“This is not a case about whether vaccines are effective,” Van Tatenhove wrote in his opinion. “They are. Nor is this a case about whether the government, at some level, and in some circumstances, can require citizens to obtain vaccines. It can.”
Instead, he continued, the question before him was whether the president had the authority to mandate employees of federal contractors and subcontractors to receive the vaccine.
“In all likelihood, the answer to that question is no,” the judge wrote.
Van Tatenhove’s ruling applies to Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee — the three states that filed the lawsuit.
These losses for Biden came after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is based in New Orleans, last month temporarily blocked the president’s broader mandate requiring private businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure all workers get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is charged with enforcing the order through seldom-used emergency powers.
One week later, the Fifth Circuit Court reaffirmed its stay on Biden’s order, citing a retweet from White House chief of staff Ron Klain as a key piece of evidence. In September, Klain retweeted a post from MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle, who praised Biden’s mandate as “the ultimate work-around” to avoid potential constitutional challenges.
“The mandate is a one-size-fits-all sledgehammer that makes hardly any attempt to account for differences in workplaces (and workers),” Circuit Judge Kurt Engelhardt wrote in his opinion, calling the order “staggeringly overboard.”
Beyond vaccine mandates, the courts have quashed several other efforts by Biden to respond to COVID-19, deeming them unconstitutional. In June, for example, a federal judge ruled the CDC can’t dictate rules for cruise ships, ruling against the administration for exceeding its constitutional authority.
Then in August, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Biden administration’s federal moratorium on residential evictions.
Citing the economic fallout from the pandemic, the administration had imposed the moratorium, leading to a legal challenge from a coalition of landlords and real estate groups.
“The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC] has imposed a nationwide moratorium on evictions in reliance on a decades-old statute that authorizes it to implement measures like fumigation and pest extermination,” the majority opinion read. “It strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the CDC the sweeping authority that it asserts.”
“If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it,” the opinion added. “Our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.”
The high court’s decision came two days after it denied Biden’s legal bid to rescind the Remain in Mexico Policy, officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols — another major loss in the courts. Under the protocols, a central feature of the Trump administration’s immigration policy, asylum seekers from Central America had to stay in Mexico during their immigration proceedings.
Despite being ordered to reinstate the Remain in Mexico policy, the Biden administration is still fighting to terminate it, so far to no avail.
This wasn’t the first time the courts proved to be a roadblock for Biden’s immigration agenda. Less than a week after Biden assumed office, a federal court in Texas temporarily blocked the Biden administration’s 100-day moratorium on deportations of some illegal immigrants.
In its opinion, the court derided the administration for omitting “a rational explanation grounded in the facts reviewed and the factors considered.” This omission, the court explained, made the Department of Homeland Security’s “determination to institute a 100-day pause on deportations an arbitrary and capricious choice.”
Biden’s losses in the courts also extend to farming. In Wisconsin, a federal judge halted Biden’s controversial $4 billion race-based federal relief program for farmers. The court found “the only consideration in determining whether a farmer or rancher’s loans should be completely forgiven is the person’s race or national origin.” Therefore, the order continued, farmers were “experiencing discrimination at the hands of their government.”
A federal court in Texas found similar discrimination by the Biden administration, but in a different context: restaurants. Indeed, the Restaurant Restoration Fund, approved by Congress to help struggling restaurants during the pandemic, gave preference to women, minorities and “socially and economically disadvantaged” people, leading the court to deem the program discriminatory.
Back in June, another federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Biden administration from pausing new oil and gas leases on federal land. Judge Doughty, the same one who ruled against Biden’s vaccine mandate for health care workers, wrote in his opinion that the administration can’t legally stop leasing federal territory for oil-and-gas production without approval from Congress.
One of Biden’s most notorious legal defeats was decided by the Supreme Court in June. In Terry v. United States, Tarahrick Terry, a criminal who pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute an unspecified amount of crack in 2008, argued for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act, President Trump’s criminal justice reform law.
Both the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled against Terry, who then petitioned to the Supreme Court. The Trump administration was preparing to defend its position and argue against Terry, noting that the First Step Act was meant to provide leniency to minor drug offenders sentenced to disproportionately long sentences and that Terry was in a different category.
But once in charge, the Biden administration told the Supreme Court it wouldn’t defend the ruling, calling it an error and siding with Terry. The high court ruled unanimously against the administration, dismissing its arguments as “sleight of hand.”
Despite the above losses and others that Biden has suffered in the courts, he and his team appear undeterred in pushing the legal envelope in pursuit of their policy agenda. It seems their success — or failure — will be determined at least as much in the courtroom as in the Capitol.