A federal judge has halted, nationwide, President Joe Biden's September executive order requiring federal contractors to vaccinate their work forces.
The Dec. 7 decision, by Judge Stan Baker in the federal district court in Augusta, Ga, calls into question the legality of the order Biden used to issue the mandate.
The federal contractor mandate had already been stayed on Dec. 3 by a federal district court judge in Lexington, Ky., but only in the states of Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky, which had sued.
The involvement of the Associated Builders and Contractors and its Georgia chapter appeared to have influenced the decision of Baker, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Donald Trump in 2017.
ABC and its chapter filed a motion on Nov. 18 to intervene in support of a lawsuit against the order filed by Georgia and six other states—Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia.
"The Court has already described in detail the extreme economic burden the Plaintiffs have suffered and will continue to suffer in endeavoring to comply with (the order)," Baker wrote. "Not to mention the impediment it will likely pose to some Plaintiffs' (in particular, ABC's members') ability to continue to perform federal contract work. Additionally, the direct impact of [the Biden executive order] goes beyond the administration and management of procurement and contracting; in its practical application ... it operates as a regulation of public health."
The order also cites evidence and testimony from ABC that showed that its members were prevented from bidding for federal contracts because they would not have enough vaccinated workers to perform the work.
Ben Brubeck, ABC vice president, termed the ruling "a big win in removing compliance hurdles for the construction industry." He noted that the group "continues to support vaccinations ... to keep workers safe on construction jobsites."
Brubeck said that "ABC’s participation in the case was essential to nationwide and construction industry relief, which would otherwise have been limited to the states that sued.”
Also stayed nationwide by the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans was an emergency temporary standard issued by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in November that applied to employers with 100 or more employees.
The OSHA standard case was moved to the US appeals court in Cincinnati, which will rule on the case merits and on whether the New Orleans court's stay will remain in place. That ruling is expected after Dec. 10.
The Arlington, Va.-based Associated General Contractors of America had previously urged the administration to give contractors a longer grace period to come into compliance with both vaccine mandates. The association said on Dec.8 it would eventually file its own lawsuit against the mandates.
"As these events unfold, AGC of America continues to prepare to file its own lawsuit against the mandate and has worked with several members on declarations that will reveal how the mandate is actually impacting AGC members," it said in a statement. The group "intends to directly challenge the proposition that the mandate — whether a public health or procurement policy — will have that effect."
Most legal experts believe the issue will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.
A White House spokeswoman said the U.S. Justice Dept. would continue to defend the mandate.