(The Center Square) – A federal judge in the Western District of Louisiana has blocked another Biden administration COVID-19 vaccine mandate, this time affecting the Head Start program.
Head Start provides childcare and early learning services for infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children of low-income families at no cost. The administration had mandated vaccines for program staff, volunteers and contractors, as well as masks for children age two-years and older.
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty suspended the policy citing executive branch overreach – the same rationale Doughty used when halting the administration’s vaccine mandate for health workers in December.
The Head Start policy was enacted through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and scheduled to take effect Jan. 31. The health care worker mandate was enacted through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and remains blocked in 25 states pending further litigation.
“The issue in this case is not whether individuals should take the COVID-19 vaccine, but whether federal agencies can mandate individuals to take a vaccine or be fired,” Doughty wrote in a 32-page order Saturday. “In this Court’s opinion, the Executive branch has declared it has the authority to make laws through Federal agencies.”
“If the Executive branch is allowed to usurp the power of the Legislative branch to make laws, then this country is no longer a democracy – it is a monarchy,” Doughty said.
HHS published an interim final rule Nov. 30 in the Federal Register that added the COVID-19 vaccine and mask provisions to Head Start’s “performance standards.” An HHS statement said the measures were essential to returning fully to in-person services.
“The purpose … is to protect the health and safety of Head Start staff, children and families; to mitigate the spread of the virus … and to help more programs and early childhood centers safely remain open,” the statement said.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry led a 24-state coalition against the mandate. The lawsuit alleged federal overreach as well as violations of the Administrative Procedures Act’s public comment requirement, the Congressional Review Act, the 10th Amendment and the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act.
“Starting the new year off with another victory over one of Biden’s unlawful #Covid-19 mandates,” Landry said on social media following the Jan. 1 injunction.
“This victory will help ensure that numerous Head Start programs will continue to operate rather than have to fire teachers and cut back services to children,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall added in a news release.
Landry has also sued the Biden administration over vaccine mandates affecting federal contractors and large employers. If the administration appeals the Head Start ruling, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would hear the case.
Notably, the 5th Circuit issued a nationwide injunction against Biden’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) vaccine mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees. The injunction was dissolved by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering the case.
Doughty said the Head Start dispute is far from being resolved.
“This issue will certainly be decided by a higher court than this one. This issue is important. The separation of powers has never been so thin,” he said.
Saturday’s ruling affects Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming and West Virginia.