By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — A divided federal appeals court Sunday rejected Florida’s request to at least temporarily block a Biden administration rule that would require health-care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
A panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, turned down a motion by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody for an injunction against the Biden administration rule while the Atlanta-based court considers the vaccination requirement.
The decision said the state “failed to make the requisite showing for an injunction pending appeal.” Judges Robin Rosenbaum and Jill Pryor made up the majority, while Judge Barbara Lagoa dissented. The one-page decision said full opinions would be issued later.
Sunday’s decision, however, did not mean the Biden administration can move forward with the health-care worker vaccination requirement Monday, as originally planned. That is because a Louisiana federal judge last week issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against the Biden administration rule.
Nevertheless, lawyers in Moody’s office requested the 11th Circuit also issue an injunction because the Biden administration appealed the Louisiana ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That appeal remained pending Sunday afternoon, according to an online court docket.
“Were the nationwide injunction (in the Louisiana case) stayed or narrowed, Florida and its citizens would be without protection beginning on December 6,” Moody’s office said in a filing last week.
The decision Sunday came after Pensacola-based U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers last month denied Florida’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the rule. Moody quickly appealed and asked for an injunction while the appeal moves forward.
The federal rule would apply to hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care providers that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The rule, issued in early November, called for health-care workers to receive at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 6 and be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, with limited exemptions for medical and religious reasons.
In a document filed at the appeals court, Moody’s office said the “mandate is unlawful several times over.”
“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (the federal agency in charge of the programs) has taken the unprecedented step of mandating the vaccination of millions of frontline health care workers,” the document said. “The measure risks exacerbating an already acute health care-worker shortage and harming the very vulnerable populations that Medicare and Medicaid help, all while purporting to preempt Florida’s sovereign prerogative to ban compelled COVID-19 vaccination.”
But Rodgers rejected the state’s arguments in a Nov. 20 ruling and in an additional order Wednesday.
Rodgers, who was nominated to the bench by former President George W. Bush, wrote in her Wednesday order that the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has broad rulemaking authority over the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The department includes the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
She also wrote that a “balancing of the equities” favored denial of the request for an injunction.
“In this instance, the safety of Medicare and Medicaid patients and staff administering the program throughout this pandemic, which has left hundreds of thousands of people dead, and the need to slow the spread of the virus, are greatly enhanced by virtue of the COVID-19 vaccine, according (to) the medical and public health science,” Rodgers wrote. “This public safety interest is especially compelling within the context of health care facilities, which are charged with protecting vulnerable patients participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and thus weighs heavily on the side of denying injunctive relief.”
Rosenbaum and Pryor were nominated to the appeals court by former President Barack Obama. Lagoa was nominated by former President Donald Trump after being appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Florida Supreme Court.