BREAKING: Vaccine mandate for federal contractors suspended, nullifying Jan. 4 deadline for BSU employees

A U.S. District Court in Georgia ruled to pause enforcement of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors on Tuesday, stating the president likely overreached his authority with the Executive Order.

Boise State was preparing employees to comply with the mandate, but issued a new statement updating employees on the “effective suspencion” of the mandate and canceled town halls scheduled to answer questions about the executive order mandate.

“We appreciate your patience as we awaited the announcement of the court’s decision. We will continue to monitor this case and keep you updated,” the email stated.

Vaccine mandates remain a controversial issue at the heart of the ongoing battle against COVID-19 with millions of workers facing potential mandates, but litigation over pending lawsuits and unclear exemption guidelines have left many confused about what mandates apply to them and when.

What vaccine mandates exist?

The Biden Administration has passed several mandates through different powers and organizations, with the goal of immunizing as many Americans as possible. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an emergency temporary standard that required large employers with 100 or more workers to require vaccination or enforce masks and weekly testing for employees. 

This standard has been blocked pending appeals on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and is not currently being enforced.

The Biden administration also issued an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to vaccinate all employees with a few exemptions. Boise State was preparing to comply with this order when injunctive relief was granted Tuesday, allowing time for courts to deliberate.

New York is the first state announcing a vaccine mandate for private businesses.Many different private companies have also announced vaccine mandates for their employees.

Why are there multiple mandates?

A universal order for all Americans to be vaccinated would be an obvious breach of executive authority on the part of the Biden administration, so different mandates have been used based on the different authorities of the executive office.

“It would be more difficult for them to just say, like some sort of a universal mandate across the board so they’re trying to kind of use these different tools that they have to get compliance essentially,” said Dr. Jeffry Lyons, program lead and associate professor of political science at Boise State.

What is the status of the lawsuits?

Lawsuits against the different mandates have been filed by groups of different states, questioning the legality of federal mandates on vaccines. To allow time for the courts to reach decisions, the mandates have been granted suspensions meaning they will not be enforced.

It is unclear how courts will rule on the mandates, but past precedent suggests that vaccine mandates are not inherently an abuse of federal power.

“We do have a long history of vaccine mandates across [a] whole bunch of different domains,” Lyons said.

Vaccine mandates have typically included exemptions, and with a vaccine as divisive as COVID has proved to be, exemptions become complicated. If you want to claim a religious exemption from the vaccine, are there requirements you must meet that demonstrate the vaccine is actually against your religion? All these details will take time to figure out, especially when the decisions must be made in courts, according to Lyons.

Are Boise State students affected?

Maybe. Currently no mandates would affect students at Boise State directly, but all employees of the university, including student employees, may at some point be affected by a mandate from the federal government.

Many students may also face mandates in their workplaces outside of Boise State.

Drew Becker, a freshman philosophy and sociology major at Boise State, says he knows Boise State is likely unable or unwilling to consider imposing a vaccine mandate for students, but wishes they could.

“It definitely feels like [Boise State is] trying to play to both sides politically,” Becker said. “I don’t think that you can take a neutral approach and also deal with COVID.”

While vaccine mandates are in limbo, Becker hopes Boise State continues to maintain strong public safety protocols such as enforcing masks in dorms and classes, and enforcing required testing as needed.

“I think that [vaccine mandates are the] only thing that we can do that will actually end COVID,” Becker said.

What is the timeline?

Lyons said that vaccine mandate lawsuits could take months to work through the courts, and may eventually end up before the Supreme Court.

“A bunch of states suing the federal government probably increases your odds of getting to the Supreme Court. What would also probably increase your odds of getting to the Supreme Court is if you start getting different rulings across the appellate courts,” Lyons said.

"The B" statue on Boise State campus.
Photo by Taylor Humby | The Arbiter

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