Covid model with judge gavel
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A federal judge in Missouri issued a preliminary injunction Monday against President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for federal contractors — the second court order blocking that particular mandate this month.

Unlike the previous order, which was issued by a federal judge in Georgia and applied nationwide, the latest injunction is effective only in 10 states involved in the Missouri lawsuit, including Montana. Attorney General Austin Knudsen released a statement Monday welcoming the new injunction as an added protection for federal contractors and their employees in the state.

“Workers in Montana should not be forced to choose between their job or receiving a COVID-19 vaccination just because their employer has a contract with the federal government,” Knudsen said. “Today’s decision ensures Montanans will be protected if the nationwide injunction is overturned.”

The vaccination requirement in question was enacted in September via an executive order directing all federal contractors to “provide adequate COVID-19 safeguards to their workers.” In issuing his injunction Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Noce wrote that Montana and other plaintiff states are likely to prove in court that Biden overstepped his presidential authority in declaring the mandate. He further stated that “it will not harm the federal government to maintain the status quo while the courts decide the issues of the President’s authority and the implications for federalism.”

On the other hand, Noce also noted that the plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed in proving that the mandate violated the U.S. Constitution and, by extension, the plaintiff states are “not likely to suffer irreparable harm to their sovereign interests.”

Two other vaccination mandates issued by Biden this year have also been challenged in court. A rule change from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requiring vaccination or regular testing for all staff at companies with 100 or more employees was temporarily blocked by a federal appeals court in November. However, that stay was lifted by a separate appellate court last week, adding to an air of confusion expressed by employers across the country and prompting Gov. Greg Gianforte to urge employers, via Twitter, not to heed the OSHA rule due to a conflicting state law barring discrimination based on vaccination status.

But that state law, House Bill 702, does not trump a federal court ruling on federal regulations, said Anthony Johnstone, constitutional law professor at the University of Montana, referencing the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution

“Employers are bound by the federal rules unless a federal court has enjoined those rules,” Johnstone said.

In early December, a federal judge in Louisiana issued a temporary injunction against a vaccination requirement for all employees at health care facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding. 

The state of Montana is a plaintiff in both lawsuits.

Additional reporting by Mara Silvers.

This story was updated Dec. 21, 2021, to update the legal status of several challenged federal vaccine mandates.

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Alex Sakariassen is a 2008 graduate of the University of Montana's School of Journalism, where he worked for four years at the Montana Kaimin student newspaper and cut his journalistic teeth as a paid news intern for the Choteau Acantha for two summers. After obtaining his bachelor's degree in journalism and history, Sakariassen spent nearly 10 years covering environmental issues and state and federal politics for the alternative newsweekly Missoula Independent. He transitioned into freelance journalism following the Indy's abrupt shuttering in September 2018, writing in-depth features, breaking...