The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 5 ruled against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Federal government contractors put in place by the Biden administration in November.

The mandate has seen it ups and down in Federal district courts since then, but the recent decision by the Sixth Circuit marks the first Federal appellate court to consider the legality of the contractor mandate.

The three-judge appeals court panel decided against the contractor mandate in a 2-1 vote, upholding a ruling by a Federal judge in Kentucky which found the Biden administration did not have the legal authority to impose the mandate.

Many states have sued the Biden administration over the contractor mandate, which requires all covered contractor employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, unless the employee is legally entitled to an accommodation.

“If the President can order medical interventions in the name of reducing absenteeism, what is the logical stopping point of that power,” appeals court Judge John K. Bush asked in the court’s opinion. “Even vaccinated employees may contract the flu (or COVID-19) at family gatherings, concerts, sporting events, and so on.”

Specifically, the court rejected the argument that the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act (Property Act) allows the Federal government to require vaccination for Federal contractors.

However, the one dissenting judge, R. Guy Cole, Jr., agreed with the Biden Administration that the Property Act authorizes the contractor mandate.

“Courts have recognized that the Property Act gives the President ‘necessary flexibility and broad-ranging authority,’” Judge Cole wrote in his dissent. “Congress clearly intended to grant the President ‘direct and broad-ranging authority over those larger administrative and management issues that involve the government as a whole.’… Executive Order 14042 is consistent with the provisions of the Property Act.”

A separate ruling by a Federal judge in Georgia that blocks the contractor vaccine mandate has been appealed by the Justice Department to the Federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.