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Appeals court: Federal contractor vaccine mandate still blocked in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio

Corinne Boyer

A federal appeals court upheld a ruling that struck down the vaccine mandate for federal government contractors in three states – Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio.

The ruling came Thursday from a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, affirming a November 2021 ruling from a federal judge in Louisville that called the mandate unconstitutional.

The mandate – which would require workers contracting with the federal government to wear face masks and be vaccinated for COVID-19 – isn’t being enforced by President Joe Biden’s administration while legal battles continue to play out around the country.

The panel called the scope of the mandate “stunning,” noting that around 20% of the nation’s labor force works for government contractors and that the Biden administration had exceeded his presidential authority with the order.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who sued to block the mandate with former Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, issued a statement praising the ruling.

“The Sixth Circuit's decision is a resounding victory against unlawful federal overreach into the personal medical decisions of Kentuckians,” Cameron said. “We argued that the federal contractor vaccine mandate is unlawful and that the Biden Administration does not have the authority to impose such a sweeping mandate on Kentuckians.”

Cameron, is one of several Republicans running for governor in Kentucky this year. Throughout his term, he has filed several lawsuits against the state and federal government’s coronavirus policies.

This ruling comes as COVID-19 numbers surge in Kentucky, with over 15,000 new cases since Christmas and over two-thirds of Kentucky’s 120 counties categorized as medium or high COVID-19 community level. Cases are on the rise in the Volunteer State as well. The Tennessee Department of Health has reported an average of over 1,600 new cases a day since the start of the new year.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimate that a new subvariant of COVID-19 – XBB 1.5, which itself is a subvariant of the omicron strain of the disease – is causing an increasing proportion of cases in the U.S.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear encouraged anyone eligible to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 during his Team Kentucky briefing earlier this week.

Thursday’s ruling follows a similar one in December that blocked the mandate in Indiana, Louisiana and Mississippi.

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