The Supreme Court has nullified a set of rulings related to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates for federal employees and military servicemembers. This action prevents these decisions from serving as legal precedents in the future.
The justices, on Monday, sided with the Biden administration, deeming the disputes moot and setting aside lower court rulings, thereby creating a clean legal slate for potential future vaccine mandates.
The conflicting conclusions reached by different courts in the cases raised questions about the appropriate legal remedy. Regarding the federal employee mandate, two appeals courts had disagreed on whether federal employees could challenge the constitutionality of the mandate in court or if they were required to go through the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) first.
One case, involving a Navy civilian employee, led the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to rule in favor of the MSPB, while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued a conflicting decision in favor of an organization called Feds for Medical Freedom and other plaintiffs.
President Biden rescinded the executive order establishing the federal employee vaccine mandate in May before the Supreme Court could intervene. In the military vaccine mandate case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued an injunction against the Air Force, but Congress subsequently passed legislation directing the rescinding of the mandate.
In all three cases, the administration urged the Supreme Court to issue a Munsingwear vacatur, setting aside lower rulings due to mootness. While the Navy employee who lost in the lower court agreed, the victorious plaintiffs in the other federal employee and military vaccine cases urged the Supreme Court to let their rulings stand.
They argued that Munsingwear wasn’t applicable because the Biden administration had voluntarily mooted its case. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented from the court’s decision in two of the three cases, expressing skepticism about the legal maneuver.
In the third case, Jackson disagreed but acquiesced based on the Supreme Court’s established practice. The Biden administration defended its actions, attributing the revocation of the federal employee mandate to changing public health circumstances rather than an attempt to evade judicial review or gain litigation advantage.