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Biden administration urges appeals court not to block new vaccine rules for companies

The Justice Department said in its court filing that the rules are "necessary to mitigate" Covid-19 in the workplace.

The Justice Department urged a federal appeals court late Monday to end its stay blocking enforcement of the Biden administration's rule requiring Covid-19 vaccination or weekly testing for employees of large companies.

The rule's requirements reflect "expert judgment that these measures are necessary to mitigate COVID transmission throughout America's workplaces," said the filing in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans.

Announced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, the rule requires businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure that their workforces are fully vaccinated or require workers who aren't vaccinated to wear masks and show negative Covid-19 test results at least once a week.

A group of companies, joined by Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Utah, sued to block the requirement. They said Congress never gave OSHA the authority to order something so sweeping. The coronavirus is a societywide pandemic, not a workplace hazard, they argued.

Their court challenge also said public health responses aren't the province of the federal government, because such restrictions are explicitly left to the states by the Constitution. And they said it is the same kind of overreach as the Biden administration's effort to have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ban evictions.

The OSHA rule will make it harder to maintain enough workers in a tight labor market, the challengers said.

The appeals court issued a brief order Saturday temporarily blocking the rule. The court said the objections raised by the challengers "give cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the mandate."

In its response, the Justice Department said there was no need for an emergency order to block the rule, because none of it takes effect for at least a month. The mask requirement for unvaccinated employees doesn't kick in until Dec. 5, and the vaccination requirement doesn't take effect until Jan. 4.

In the meantime, the government said, federal law requires the selection of a single court to hear similar challenges that have been filed in at least five other federal appeals courts.

As for the objections raised by the businesses and states, the Justice Department said they do not outweigh "the harm of staying a standard that will save thousands of lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations."

A stay "would likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day," Justice Department officials added.