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Alexandria federal judge takes vaccine mandate for federal contractors under advisement

Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 6:51 PM CST
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - An Alexandria-based federal judge will take a lawsuit filed by three states, including Louisiana, against the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors under advisement. His decision, once made, could mean the granting of a preliminary injunction that would temporarily halt that portion of the mandate from going into effect.

On Nov. 4, 2021, the states of Louisiana, Indiana and Mississippi filed a federal civil lawsuit against the Biden Administration and its vaccine mandate for federal contractors. That case was assigned to the U.S. District Court for the Western District in Alexandria. On Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, oral arguments were scheduled before Judge Dee Drell.

Louisiana’s Solicitor General, Liz Murrill, argued the case on behalf of the three states. In her argument to the court, Murrill said that the vaccine mandate is “affecting millions of people, certainly thousands in Louisiana.” She also warned of “enormous economic impact” if allowed to take effect.

Murrill called two employees with the University of Louisiana system to explain the burden the mandate has created. The first witness, Megan Breaux, director of operational review and EEO for UL Lafayette, told the court under her role she works “99% remote” and closely with federal contractors.

“I am not vaccinated. I submitted a request for religious exemption. It was denied. If everything stays as it is, I will be terminated in January,” said Breaux.

Breaux outlined an email timeline of the university’s decision to require vaccinations under the Biden Administration’s mandate. She applied for a religious exemption.

“I was really surprised and didn’t understand why they denied my request,” she said.

When she followed up with human resources, she said she was told that under the mandate, no unvaccinated federal contractor or those employed would be allowed on campus.

“I did not qualify to be 100% remote,” said Breaux, since she would still be prevented from going into places where federal contractors would also frequent.

One of the attorneys for the government, Jerry Edwards, told the court that Breaux had an issue with the university’s response and claimed the university made religious exemptions.

Dr. James Henderson, president and CEO of the UL system, testified next. He spoke about the difficulties interpreting the mandate, saying he had to reference an FAQ section multiple times to better understand it. Henderson’s biggest concern revolved around a contract the system has with the National Institute of Health (NIH) and its New Iberia Research Center, which conducts $70 million in research. He talked about the want to maximize vaccinations on campus and the difficulties in “segregating” unvaccinated employees on the campus. But, he emphasized the need to keep the federal contracts.

“If they became ineligible for federal contracts, it would cut to the core of the university’s mission...the NIH contracts are important to us,” said Henderson.

UL Lafayette signed off on amendments made to the NIH contract, adding the federal contractor vaccine mandate. Kevin Wynosky, another federal government attorney, asked whether the UL system conducted bilateral negotiations with the NIH to discuss the changes. Henderson argued they had no grounds to do so. Instead, entering into negotiations or refusing to approve of the changes could potentially damage collaboration between the contractors and the school, both now and in the future.

Judge Drell decided to allow the testimonies into evidence, despite Wynosky’s objection.

Wynosky argued that the vaccine mandate is part of a larger effort in promoting “economy and efficiency” in the U.S., saying a preliminary injunction is not warranted. However, if Judge Drell disagreed with that assessment, Wynosky urged the judge to only apply the injunction to states included in the case and for it to be a limited injunction, encouraging the inclusion of the mandate to maintain the status quo, even if it was not enforced.

Murrill argued, however, “you don’t get economy and efficiency by forcing companies to fire their employees,” also alluding to the idea that if the mandate continues, it sets a precedent that the federal government is allowed to do anything it wishes.

Judge Drell also asked for clarification of the preliminary injunction request, asking Murrill if it was to just apply to the three states involved in the case. Murrill made it clear, while that is their wish, the circumstances “scream for nationwide relief.”

Judge Drell did not issue a decision on the case, but said he would issue one as soon as possible.

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