Supreme Court Vacates Stay of Injunction Precluding Effectiveness of Texas’ Law Addressing Perceived Social Media Censorship

Net Choice, et al. v. Paxton, Attorney General of Texas, No. 21A720, 596 U.S. ____. Order granting emergency petition entered May 31, 2022.



Texas legislation prohibiting content-based deplatforming or deprioritizing of social media posts remains subject to an injunction precluding its effect pending determination of the merits of challenges of the constitutionality of the statute. The Supreme Court has vacated the Fifth Circuit’s stay of a district court injunction precluding the effect of the law. 

Justice Alito has dissented from the grant of the petition, stressing that the questions presented by the case invite the Court’s review, particularly as those questions do not fit squarely within First Amendment precedent.  Neither public event, publication, public marketplace, or common carrier provisions anticipate the advent of and market power of social media platforms.  

The dissenting justice notes that the state perceives impossible incongruity between the social media platforms’ position that they may enjoy immunities under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 for publication of others’ content while at the same time enjoying First Amendment protection for refusing to publish that content.

Justice Alito observes that the likelihood of success on the merits must be demonstrated as to all aspects of the injunctive relief provided, but this is not the case with respect to the disclosure requirements of the Texas law concerning social media platforms’ publication standards, which are to be reviewed under less stringent standards for constitutional review of commercial speech.

Of importance is that the Texas law applies only prospectively, a circumstance which, in a certain light, renders injunctive relief pending review somewhat superfluous, as no action against any social media company has yet occurred and any action remains open to constitutional challenge if and when it occurs. 

The novelty of the questions presented, while inviting exploration, does not justify federal interference in state sovereignty, which is the result where, as here, the Supreme Court serves as a source of preclearance authority.

Justice Alito’s dissent has been joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch.  Justice Kagan would deny the emergency petition, but has neither joined the dissent nor written her own opinion.

Netchoice, LLC v. Paxton, 21A720, 596 U.S. ____ , May 31, 2022

The Eleventh Circuit Opines that Much of Florida’s New Regulation of Social Media May Violate the First Amendment, in Contrast to Recent Orders of the Fifth Circuit to the Contrary Now Awaiting Emergency Review in the Supreme Court


NetChoice, LLC and Computer & Communications Industry Association, d/b/a CCIA v. Attorney General of the State of Florida, et al., No. 21-12355 (11th Cir.) Order and Opinion issued May 23, 2022, affirming in part and vacating in part an injunction issued by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.


Several states, including Florida and Texas, have enacted legislation aimed at compelling social media to be open to all, without banning, de-prioritizing, or de-platforming entities or posts because they present disfavored views. Texas’s law applies to the general practices of large social media sites, while Florida has addressed access by political candidates and journalists.

When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit refused to enjoin the effectiveness of Texas’s statute, NetChoice and CCIA presented an emergency petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on May 13, 2022. Just as briefing closed on the emergency petition, the Eleventh Circuit issued its opinion, which has been added to the record of the emergency petition as supplemental authority.

Unlike the Fifth Circuit, holding its legal cards close to the vest, so to speak, and issuing a non-unanimous order without opinion, the Eleventh Circuit has published a 67 page opinion examining whether it is likely that NetChoice and CCIA will succeed in demonstrating that Florida’s law is unconstitutional. Concluding that it is likely that the law will be shown to be unconstitutional, and observing that ongoing infringements of First Amendment rights are presumed to cause irreparable harm, and noting that neither the state nor the public has any interest in enforcing unconstitutional law, the Eleventh Circuit has upheld most, but not all, of the injunctive relief granted by the Northern District of Florida.

Principles Endure. The Eleventh Circuit opened its opinion by noting that new principles are not necessarily needed when new technologies emerge. The First Amendment continues to prohibit government interference in speech while protecting the speech of private actors.

‘Not Really Private’ Private Entities. Florida asserts that social media platforms are not truly private entities and has enacted legislation prohibiting de-platforming political candidates, de-prioritizing messages about political candidates, or removing content provided by an “journalistic enterprises” because of its content.

The Eleventh Circuit Disagrees. The appellate court has found that social media entities are private actors that enjoy First Amendment protections. Editorial judgement about content are protected. That protection would be unconstitutionally burdened by Florida’s legislation, not only in its editorial and content-based directives but also in its demands for disclosure of a rationale supporting any and all content moderation decisions. These observations support enjoining aspects of the Florida law.

How It Works. The Eleventh Circuit has offered a ‘primer’ about what social media platforms are” collectors of others’ speech, broadly defined to include text, photography, and video “posts” published to others. Platforms may have billions of users or exist as smaller sites for specialized interests. Several social media platforms are household names: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Private Enterprises, Private Choices. No one is obliged to avail themselves of the content social media entities provide. The government cannot restrict citizens’ access to social media platforms but that right of access attaching to citizens does not include a right to compel the platforms to accept or consume any content.

Whose Speech Is It? Much, if not most, speech on social media platforms is not created by the platforms themselves, but some speech belongs to the platforms, as is the case with publishing terms of service or community standards defining what is permitted, or creating addenda or warning, or publish a platform’s own content.

Neither Conduits nor Storage Devices, but Curators. Social media enterprises are best seen as curators and arrangers of content according to users’ wishes, while at the same time removing content that violates the terms of service or community standards.

These activities make the platforms active intermediaries who have created virtual spaces where participants can be both speakers and listeners.

The Eleventh Circuit views content moderation as curation that promotes the creation and development of niches and communities, and promotes values and points of view.

Why Florida Sought Legislative Intervention. Florida’s social media legislation was intended to address perceived silencing of conservative views by technology ‘oligarchs’.

Florida perceives social media platforms to be akin to public utilities which, as common carriers, are to remain accessible to all and to viewpoints.

Sweeping and Problematic. The Eleventh Circuit notes that Florida’s law, while aimed at “big tech oligarchs,” as defined by size and revenue, does sweep in smaller sites, such as Wikipedia and Etsy. An initial specific exclusion of Disney Corporation was repealed.

Three features of the Florida legislation are problematic, in the appellate court’s view: content moderation, disclosure obligations, and user data retention.

Strict in Theory, Fatal in Fact. The Eleventh Circuit perceives that Florida’s legislation regulates speech within the meaning of the First Amendment, and its content moderation provisions are subject to strict scrutiny, making it unlikely the legislation will survive.

Pre-Emption Awaits Another Day. As the court based its analysis on the First Amendment, it is not necessary to consider the issue of federal preemption of the Florida law by 47 U.S.C. Section 230.

Gutting Editorial Discretion. Denying social media platforms the ability to prohibit some posts, as the Florida law does, impairs the very exercise of discretion that the First Amendment prohibits, the Eleventh Circuit observes.

Not an Indiscriminate Host. The notion that by opening a social media space to some — essentially serving as a host to speakers — a social media enterprise must open that speech to all, following historic decisions, failed to persuade the Eleventh Circuit with respect to the Florida legislation.

Social Media’s Own Speech. If the issue of mandating open doors and open access were not enough to impair the social media companies’ editorial discretion, and by extension, their First Amendment rights, the Florida law, in the court’s view, impedes the platforms’ capacity to exercise their own speech rights.

Common Carrier Analogy Fails. Seeking to minimize the impact of First Amendment review, the state has relied heavily on the notion that social media platforms are common carriers indefensible to society, an idea rejected by the Eleventh Circuit notwithstanding that the court was uncertain whether the state asserts that the common carrier status has already been attained or whether the state would legislate that status into existence.

Social media platforms do not behave as common carriers available to all to transmit communications of their own choosing, the Eleventh Circuit observes. Social media platforms may appear to be open to all but in fact users must accept the platforms’ terms and community standards. Moreover, Supreme Court opinions have not considered cable operators to be common carriers, and the Court has declined to place online media on the same footing as broadcast media for supervisory and regulatory purposes.

The Eleventh Circuit sees that online platforms as analogous to cable providers that retain editorial discretion over their offerings.

Finally, Congress has specifically distinguished and exempted internet services form other communications media in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and within the same legislation has protected social media from liability for publication in ways not extended to common carriers that must serve all, the Eleventh Circuit reasoned.

What Part of “Constitutional Guarantees” Did Florida Not Understand? If the social media platforms are not already common carriers, which the appellate court finds they are not, the state possesses no power to legislate the platforms’ First Amendment rights out of existence by nomenclature. Even if the social media platforms’ vast market powers suggest that they ought to be treated as common carriers, this would not carry the day. Legislation cannot create in social media the fundamental characteristics inherent in and required of common carriers to hold themselves out to the entirely of the public, without exception. While some entitles may come to be a means of rendering services of public interest, marketplace success in itself will not compel forfeiture of First Amendment rights.

The exercise of expressive editorial judgment by the social media platforms means that those platforms are not common carriers. Any imposition of limits on their First Amendment rights must survive strict scrutiny, which, with some exceptions, is not the case with Florida’s law.

The Nature of the Violations. Florida’s law would restrict editorial judgment through forbidding de-platforming political candidates, manipulating the presentation of content by or about candidates, and censoring or manipulating journalistic enterprises. Legislatively requiring consistency in decision- making and imposing time limits on restrictions present similar, if less obvious, impositions on social media platforms.

Permitting users to opt out of the platforms’ curation would interfere with the editorial processes and discretion exercise by the platforms to those users.

Compelled disclosures of platform activities inherently burden editorial judgment, but such commercial disclosures are subject to lesser scrutiny.

The Eleventh Circuit finds no First Amendment issues arise with respect to requiring platforms to permit users to access their stored records for at least sixty days after de-platforming.

Gimlet Eye or Casual Glance: Standards of Review. Content based speech regulations must survive strict scrutiny. While the state has admitted that the aim of its legislation is to address perceived mistreatment of conservatives and conservative views, this does not persuade the Eleventh Circuit to adopt the technology associations’ argument that this causes the entirety of the legislation to fail.

The state’s motivation in enacting legislation is not outcome determinative in review of an otherwise facially constitutional law. Moreover, the applicability of the law to some social media platforms and not others, while of concern, is insufficient to condemn the legislation in its entirety.

The Eleventh Circuit’s Reasoning. The appellate panel has concluded that NetChoice and CCIA may succeed on the merits of their content moderation claims. As some provisions refer specifically to content messaging, those trigger strict scrutiny, whereas de-platforming and opt-outs are neutral.

The “consistency” demanded of the social media platforms partakes both of content-based and neutral regulation. Because at their core they involve expressive activity, intermediary scrutiny is triggered, but even at that level, they are not likely to survive.

Disclosure of factual information in commercial settings need not meet even intermediate scrutiny, and may be reviewed on a rational relationship basis, making those regulations likely to survive.

The Eleventh Circuit has concluded that none of the content moderation measures would survive intermediate scrutiny and that the ‘explanatory’ disclosure requirements — why decisions were made — is likely unconstitutional. However,there is no likelihood of success on the merits of the rest of the legislation.

When intermediate scrutiny is applied to the legislation’s content moderation restrictions, the court is asked to consider whether the content moderation restrictions are narrowly drawn, that is, no greater than is essential, to further a substantial government interest unrelated to speech suppression.

The content moderation restrictions do not, in the court’s view, further any substantial government interest, which does not seem to have been seriously argued by the state. (Slip op. at 53.)

While it might be that the state, had they pursued such arguments, would claim an interest in curtailing private censorship, or in fostering use of of the internet, the government has no interest in “leveling the expressive playing field,” nor may it intervene where there is no right to a social media account.

The idea of restricting the speech of some to enlarge the voices of others is “wholly foreign to the First Amendment,” the Eleventh Circuit has concluded. (Slip op. at 59, quoting Buckley v. Valeo, 424, U.S. 1, 48-49 (1976)).

The assertion of a state interest in “promoting the widespread dissemination of information from a multiplicity of sources” would fail, as social media platforms do not act as gatekeepers, exercising control over most or all information. (Slip. Op. at 49, quoting Turning Broadcasting System v. FCC, 512 U.S. 622, 662 (1994).) A wealth of communications resources exist and are available to speakers Even if they are not of the magnitude of the social media platforms, this does not justify inhibiting the speech rights of private social media companies as the Florida law would do.

Moreover, the appellate court thinks it unlikely that the government has an interest in private utilities’ consistent application of rules or in prohibiting users from changing messages within certain time frames, in addressing sequencing of content, or in permitting or precluding participation in these processes.

Even if a substantial government interest were found, there is little likelihood that the preclusive restrictions and mandated activities are “no greater than is essential to the furtherance of interests.” (Slip op. at 61, citing United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 377 (1968).

Prohibitions on “deplatforming, deprioritizing, or shadow-banning” would make it impossible to address obscenities or terrorist threats, and indeed raises the specter of minors’ access to pornography. (Slip op. at 62). This wide a sweep stands the narrowness constraints applicable to legislation of speech regulations on its head, the court concludes.

Compelled disclosures. Disclosure requirements will survive constitutional scrutiny if as commercial speech they are related to protection of consumers, which is a recognized state interest, and are not unjustified or unduly burdensome, effectively chilling protected speech. (Slip op. at 63, citing Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz v. United States, 559 U.S. 229, 250 (2010).

An exception to the likely unconstitutional disclosure requirements is requiring that information be provided to consumers about the terms of access to the platform and that the content moderation policies are not misleading. The court observed that there has not been a sufficient showing that publications of standards or that providing information about rules changes, views, and advertising information would be unduly burdensome.

The court has agreed with NetChoice that requiring detailed justification for and notice of each content moderation is likely unconstitutional even under commercial speech standards. The time constraints, compliance burdens, and prohibitive fines for insufficient “thoroughness” compound those burdens.

And in Conclusion. The remaining factors requiring review to substantiate injunctive relief are easily met, the Eleventh Circuit has determined. Ongoing First Amendment violations are presumptively irreparably harmful, and neither the state nor the public has any interest in enforcing an unconstitutional statute.

The district court’s order will be upheld in part and vacated in part, and the case remanded.

WHERE MATTERS STAND. JustLawful is not sage enough to know what the Supreme Court will do now that there is an apparent, if only partially articulated, conflict between two federal circuit courts of appeal. Others’ prognostications are welcomed.

In a Nutshell. Here is a link to the Eleventh Circuit’s synopsis of its parsing of the Florida statute.

Summary 11th Cir. Opinion

And in Full:

Here is the entire opinion.

NetChoice v. Florida No. 21-12355 (11th Cir.) Opinion May 23, 2022

 

Federal Officials Cannot Evade First Amendment Constraints on Speech Suppression Through Intimidation and Collusion with Internet Platforms, or Creation of an Unauthorized Disinformation Governance Board, State Attorney Generals Assert in Suit Against an Array of Federal Officials


Missouri and Louisiana v. Biden, et al.., No. 3:22-cv-01213-TAD-KDM (W.D. La.).  Complaint filed May 5, 2022.

Missouri and Louisiana v. Biden, et al., No. 3 22-cv- 01213 (W.D. La.) Complaint filed May 5, 2022

Missouri and Louisiana Attorney Generals, claiming injury to state constitutional interests and to state citizens’ speech freedoms, have filed a complaint against President Biden and multiple executive officials and federal agency heads, asserting that the Biden administration has colluded with technology platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter in order to suppress and censor information unfavorable to federal government aims.  The recent creation of a bureaucratic governing board to manage removal of disfavored speech only advances these unconstitutional practices, the state plaintiffs say.

Plaintiffs seek declaratory relief declaring the administration’s actions violate the First Amendment as well as injunctive relief forbidding further unconstitutional activity.

The First Amendment serves as the cornerstone of the free exchange of ideas of information, without which competent self governance is impossible, the states say.  The federal government is constrained by the First Amendment from interfering with the guaranteed freedoms embodied in the First Amendment, including speech freedoms.  The government cannot escape its obligation to refrain from inhibiting speech by engaging private entities to censor speech.

Although the First Amendment does not ordinarily reach private actors, acts undertaken at the behest of or in collusion with the government may violate the First Amendment.  This is particularly so, the plaintiffs state, where the federal government has coerced private entities to cooperate with the government by means of threats of antitrust proceedings or revocation of immunities enjoyed under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Truncating the flow of information to suit federal officials’ aims impairs states in protecting the interests of state citizens, particularly where state constitutions may secure more expansive speech protections that the United States Constitution, plaintiffs claim.

The Complaint filed on May 5 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana details instances in which, either directly or in collusion with technology platforms, federal officials have acted to suppress speech, serving their own political ends to the injury and detriment of the public, frequently cloaking their actions as attempts to guard against undefined and opaque “disinformation.”

Threats of antitrust actions or threats of loss of immunities have ensured technology companies’ compliance with federal officials’ dictates.   The adoption of facially private governing documents and policies that in fact are employed to serve the government, and which may operate in collusion with the government, cannot be interposed to shield either private or public actors from liability for suppressing and chilling speech.

An atmosphere of intimidation pervades social media sites, plaintiffs observe. Undertaken in fear of or in collusion with federal officials, the private companies’ practices of banning, shadow banning, limiting publication, and outright removal of social media account holders create unconstitutional prior restraints, chilling participation lest a similar fate ensue.

The state plaintiffs’ Complaint provides a chronicle of activity asserted to constitute First Amendment violations. If true, the plaintiffs’ allegations paint a picture of a government intent on serving its ends and not those of the public they were elected or appointed to serve.  Digital media fail to behave as an ‘electronic public square’ where those media represent an unparalleled “concentrated control” of speech.  Complaint, para. 53, citing Knight First Amendment Institute, 141 S. Ct. 1220, 1221 (2021).

Federal officials have conferred with private digital platforms to advise the platforms about content that ought to be flagged for removal, plaintiffs state.

Online platforms accomplish speech monitoring by means such as mechanical algorithms or outright speech suppression by permanent banishment of disfavored speakers, the plaintiffs offer, thereby denying the exiled any ability to communicate publicly.  Such measures not infrequently censor core political speech, to the detriment of political opponents and to the benefit of those directing the private companies’ actions.

Examples of digital platforms’ interference with First Amendment speech guarantees, undertaken to please or to appease federal officials have included suppression of information about location of the President’s son’s laptop, said to contain damaging information, on the eve of the Presidential election.

Plaintiffs aver that open discussion of the origins of the Covid-19 virus was precluded where, by agreement with a social media platform, a federal official who had been engaged in funding gain of function research abroad provided messaging favoring a government narrative which insulated the government and the official from review.

Relevant evidence that would permit public evaluation of the efficacy of face masks and government edicts demanding home confinement was also suppressed, plaintiffs submit.

The promotion of narratives favoring voting by mail, a methodology traditionally dismissed as inviting voter fraud, has also been alleged to involve social media.

Both the Executive and the Legislative branches have threatened technology companies directly and publicly, at times demanding removal of political opponents’ statements.

The recent creation of a board to govern “disinformation” is an Orwellian measure intended to withhold content from the public and to insulate the federal government from criticism, plaintiffs insist.   This has been done notwithstanding that there exists a constitutional guarantee of free speech, such guarantee not to be interfered with by curating and removing from public discourse that which disfavors the government.

Similarly dystopian, plaintiffs observe, is the view that speech is not speech but infrastructure, and thus susceptible of government regulation and oversight.  To this has been added the opinion that the public reacts emotionally and thoughtlessly to speech, and that speech is linked to violence, requiring online policing to protect the public.  One legislator has suggested that the public lacks the capacity to discern fact from fiction, a circumstance not to be addressed by providing more information, but instead, in the view of current federal officials, less information or none at all.

These activities, whether singularly or in combination, violate the First Amendment and severely damage public discourse, the plaintiffs say, causing sufficient danger to open discourse as to merit an injunction against further constitutional violations.

Last Rights:  Supreme Court Concludes Death Row Inmate May Succeed in Asserting Undue Burden of His Religious Exercise Because State Denied Request for Minister’s Presence, Audible Prayer, and Touch During Execution 

Ramirez v. Collier, Executive Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, No. 21-5592, 595 U.S. ____ (March 24, 2022).  Opinion awarding petitioner Ramirez injunctive relief, reversing the decision of the Fifth Circuit affirming denial of a stay of execution, and remanding the case for further proceedings.


In 2004, John Ramirez stabbed Corpus Christi convenience store worker Pablo Castro twenty-nine times, an act that killed Castro and yielded $1.25 for Ramirez and his accomplice.

 

Ramirez fled the United States, but was apprehended near the Mexican border several years later, then was convicted of murder in the course of roberty, a capital offense.

 

Ramirez has assiduously yet unsuccessfully sought relief from his conviction.

 

Ramirez has sought to stay his execution because the State of Texas has denied him the presence of his spiritual advisor during his execution to provide audible prayer and to touch Ramirez during administration of lethal injections.  

 

Texas has promulgated several policies concerning the presence of religious advisors during executions. Although at times Texas has precluded all spiritual advisors from being present in the execution chamber, Texas has revised its protocols to permit the presence of spiritual advisors in the execution chamber.  

 

Ramirez grieved the state’s denial of his request that his spiritual advisor be permitted to pray aloud and to lay hands on Ramirez during Ramirez’s execution.  

 

Ramirez asked the United States Supreme Court to preliminarily enjoin the state from executing him prior to resolution of his claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act (RLUIPA).

 

RLUIPA provides religious free exercise protections that, because of the act’s procedural structure, may be more adventitious to claimants than First Amendment claims.  RLUIPA requires the state to demonstrate that a substantial burden on the exercise of a sincere religious belief must meet “strict scrutiny” standards even if the law in question is one of general applicability.  

 

The Supreme Court in Ramirez’s case perceives that Ramirez’s request that his pastor be present, pray audibly, and lay hands on him as he is executed reflects a sincerely held religious belief.

 

The Court has concluded that Texas cannot substantiate its revocation of the time honored practice of vocal prayer because, as Texas asserts, there exists a compelling government interest in being able to minotaur sound within the execution chamber, which, the state posits could be hampered by audible prayer.  

 

The Court agreed that the interest exists but the state had not shown that a categorical ban on all audible prayer in the execution chamber is the least restrictive means of advancing that interest. 

 

Similarly, the Court acknowledged that Texas has a compelling interest in avoiding disruption in the execution chamber.  However, the Court found that because there exists in this case no indication that disruption might occur, a hypothesized fear could not meet the state’s burden. 

 

By tailor making the execution to suit the prisoner’s needs and to permit monitoring, to limit touch to areas that would not interfere with the procedure,  and to avoid disruption, the minister could be permitted to address the inmate only, subject to immediate removal upon any failure to comply with the rules.  These measures are less restrictive means through which Texas might advance the state’s interest.

 

Having concluded that Ramirez is likely to succeed on the merits of his case, the Court next concluded that if the Court failed to provide injunctive relief that Ramire would suffer irreparable harm, as he would be barred from exercising his faith in the last moments of his life. 

 

The public interest will not be harmed by granting relief in this case, as Ramirez does not seek an indefinite stay, and there is a strong public interest – as evidenced by the enactment of RLUIPA – in ensuring that prisoners subject to execution are not concomitantly subjected to undue burdens on their religious exercise. 

 

The Court dismissed Texas’s argument that Ramirez’s inequitable conduct should bar injunctive relief.  In the Court’s assessment, Ramirez has diligently asserted and pursued his claim and has not made a late claim on long known facts to manipulate or to cause delay rather than to seek redress. 

 

As RLUIPA claims are case specific, the Court has urged the states to adopt policies to address claims through a reasonable request process as well as to provide procedural training for spiritual advisors. 

 

As Ramirez succeeded in persuading the court that he is worthy of injunctive relief, the decision of the Fifth Circuit has been reversed, and the case has been remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion.

 

Matters Would Go Better if All Played Their Parts Better.  Justice Sotomayor, having joined in the opinion, has written separately to emphasize that both inmate and prisons administration must comply with not only RLUIPA, but also, with particular emphasis on the prison’s obligations, with the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).  All concerned, but especially Institutions administering process and procedures, must ensure that redress is available and accessible and that delay not be permitted to frustrate proceedings unduly.  

 

Accommodate, Don’t Litigate.  Justice Kavanaguh concurred separately, noting the emergence of religious exercise and religious equality claims in death penalty case, and commenting upon the difficulties the Court faces in defining not only conpelling interest but also refining the relative restrictivess of measure os addressing compelling interests.

 

Justice Kavanaugh urged the states to realize that much could be accomplished and a good deal of harm could be avoided if the states were to accommodate inmenat’s requests where it is possible to do so without sacrificing the states’ “compelling interests in safety, security, and solemnity,” as so doing would avoid litigation and aid in bringing closure to victims’ families. 

 

Doubting (Justice) Thomas. Justice Thomas dissented from the Court’s opinion, citing not only the violent nature of Ramirez’s crime, but also his evasion of responsibility, and what Justice Thoams perceived to be a strategic change in position to achieve delay.

 

Justice Thomas noted that Ramirez’s engagement in delay and manipulation has frustrated the state’s and the public’s interests in how justice ought to be served.  Moreover, Ramirez has caused repeated injury to victims, as each time a date of execution has been set, Ramirez has evaded it. 

 

Although Ramirez did not engage in a last minute flurry of filing claims, he did engage in piecemeal and persistent pursuit of claims, changing tactics as needed to seek his goal:  delay. 

 

Neither strategy is more or less inequitable than the other, in Justice Thomas’s view.

 

Justice Thomas found no merit in the view that Ramirez’s advancing a claim relating to a ‘traditional’ religions ritual supports the conclusion that is claim is sincere, particularly as the orthodoxy of a practice has no bearing on First Amendment protection.

 

Justice Thomas found Ramirez’s failure to comply with the Prison Litigation REform Act (PLRA) is fatal to his bid for relief before the Supreme Court.  Ramirez was obliged to, but did not, engage in informal resolution of his audible prayer claim nor did he mention the audible prayer claim in his grievance, precluding the state’s adjudication of his claim.  

 

21-5592 Ramirez v. Collier (03_24_2022)

 

Ramirez v Collier 10 F4th 561Mem 5th Cir 2021

 

Supreme Court Stays Stays of Healthcare Workers’ Vaccine Mandate, Finding Federal Authority Within Regulation of Medicare and Medicaid Programs


Biden, et al. v. Missouri, et al., No. 21A240.

Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, et al. v. Louisiana, et al., No. 21A241.

Order and Opinion issued January 13, 2021.


The United States Supreme Court has granted the relief from stays entered in two United States District Courts enjoining the effectiveness of a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rule requiring Covid-19 vaccination of staff of facilities and providers receiving or participating in Medicare of Medicaid programs.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), administers Medicare insurance for the elderly and Medicaid insurance for low income persons.

A core feature of both programs, the Supreme Court has observed, is that participation in those programs is contingent upon compliance with HHS patient health and safety regulations.

Medicare and Medicaid regulation is extensive and longstanding and include measures to guard against transmission of infectious diseases, the Court has found.

In November, 2021, HHS added Covid-19 staff vaccine compliance to regulations governing those receiving federal reimbursement or funding (“covered” facilities or entities), attaching penalties for failure to comply as well as potential termination of participation in federal financing.

In demanding that all persons working in covered facilities be vaccinated, the Secretary of HHS made findings concerning viral contagion and the likelihood that contagion would be inhibited by requiring vaccination.

In addition, the Secretary found that fear of contracting Covid-19 has inhibited people from seeking needed health care.

The Covid-19 vaccine mandate was promulgated as Interim Final Rule without notice and comment.

The Supreme Court has concluded that the Secretary of Health and Human Services has the authority to condition receipt of federal funding upon compliance with health and safety regulations.

Although the Covid-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers goes farther than other healthcare health and safety requirements, vaccination as a condition of employment is routine.  As vaccination is ordinarily administered by the states, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic there has been no need for the federal government to step in to the process.

The Supreme Court rejected arguments that the Secretary failed to consider alternatives to vaccination or to support departure from previous ‘encouragement’ — but not requirement — of vaccination.

Even if the Secretary’s considerations and findings could be seen to be flawed, the Supreme Court observed, courts are not to disturb the Secretary’s determinations as arbitrary and capricious where the Secretary has proceeded “within a zone of reasonableness.”  Slip op. (per curiam) at 8 (citation omitted).

Objections to the Secretary’s excusing notice and comment are ill founded, the Court opined, because the arrival of the “flu season” has sufficient specificity to justify haste in implementing the Covid-19 vaccine rule  The Court found it unnecessary for HHS to confer with the states or to develop impact assessments before enacting its rule.

Finally, the vaccine mandate does not prohibit HHS involvement in the supervision or control of participants’ provision of services or the termination of employees, the Court concluded.  If the reading urged were adopted, almost all prior conditions of participation would fail.

A federal agency cannot act outside the power conferred upon it in an emergency, the Court reiterated.  This does not mean, however, that an agency is precluded from exercising authority that the agency has long been recognized to possess when  emergency conditions exist.

We disagree. Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Barrett dissent.  The dissenting justices have been unable to locate within the provisions cited by the government the authority to require an estimated ten million workers to submit to an irreversible medical procedure.  Rule-making powers that may be exercised for the administration of Medicare and Medicaid programs have not been shown to have a nexus with vaccination.  Adding to such general management authorities scattered references to ‘health and safety’ in order local such a nexus fares no better.

Bits of this and that. The ‘hodgepodge’ approach, as the dissent characterizes the majority’s analysis,  is not sufficient to support the majority’s finding that authorization for the Covid-19 mandate for healthcare workers exists.  References to health and safety measures found here and there will not suffice to support the kind of global regulatory power exercised here, nor can authority for exercise of such power be implied through ‘catchall’ language referring to undefined “other requirements” relating to health and safety.

Residual authority cannot be creatively implied, for it is a basic rule of statutory construction that where specific terms precede general terms, the general terms must consider matters similar to the specific terms.

General administrative requirements such as the provision of 24-hour services or record keeping cannot support a finding of authority for vaccination of all healthcare workers associated with covered facilities.

The one regulation that the dissent concedes might be relevant concerns infection control in long term care facilities but this relates to general sanitation, not vaccination.

The majority’s reliance on general regulatory powers granted to CMS does not provide evidence that authority to require healthcare employee vaccination exists.  The existence of some regulations does not support the majority’s finding that authority to issue the regulations in issue here has been granted.  Even the infectious disease control provisions concern sterilization and housekeeping and discuss vaccination only in the context of patient request for and consent to vaccination, and have nothing to do with the requirement imposed on employees through the Covid-19 rule.

Success in the Future is not Certain. The dissenting justices are of the opinion that the government applicants for relief from the federal district court stays have failed to demonstrate a strong likelihood of success on the merits, for in such vast measures as are in issue here, Congress must speak clearly, and nothing provided to the Court thus far shows that Congress has done so.

We disagree all the more. Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas, Gorsuch and Barrett, has provided a separate dissent.  Justice Alito opines that it is not likely that the federal government wil be able to show that there exists Congressional authorization to the Secretary to command that ten million workers submit to vaccination or lose their jobs.

The regulatory “hodgepodge” and scattered provisions as authorization was not forcefully argued by the government until its reply brief.  Stronger medicine than this is needed to cure the absence of any direct evidence to support legislative delegation to HHS to compel employee vaccinations.

Even if vaccination could be perceived to be authorized, the way in which HHS has conducted itself is fatally defective.  Administrative notice and comment, which is essential to ensuring public participation in rule-making, and which guards against lawmaking by unelected officials, has been undermined here.

Justice Alito, while recognizing that the majority has recognized only a likely hood of success on the merits, fears that the scope of the majority’s conclusions is dangerously broad.  The expansive view of regulatory powers embraced by the majority undermines fundamental principles of administrative law.  This in turn may induce extensive changes in executive branch behavior.

No good cause, no excuse. “Good cause” is necessary to excuse compliance with notice and comment provisions.  While no fixed standards supporting foregoing notice and comment exist, conditions excusing notice and comment require narrow construction.

The rationale for failing to comply with notice and commend procedures offered by the government fails to define what harm would ensue from the delay caused by notice and comment.  The ‘importance of vaccination’ will not in itself, define the harm to be avoided by suspending notice and comment.  It is not credible for HHS to argue that exigency excusing notice and comment exists where vaccines had already been in existence for ten months prior to the rule and millions of workers had been vaccinated by the time the CMS mandated issued.

No harm, yet still foul. CMS’ claim that no one was prejudiced by the failure to adhere to notice and comment  procedures obscures the fact that CMS must demonstrate good cause for doing so.  No requirement exists that respondents demonstrate a lack of good cause.  “No harm done” casts a backward glance that does not provide the good cause needed before suspending notice and comment.

Skipping the essentials bodes ill.  Notice and comment procedures are legislative limits on executive authority intended to ensure that executive agencies consider what they are doing “before restricting the liberty of the people they regulate”.  Alito dissent, slip op at 4.  (citation omitted). The majority’s adoption of CMS’ position endorses a regulate first, then listen approach which is especially dangerous where ten million workers must undergo an irreversible medical treatment or lose their jobs.

Biden v. Missouri, No. 21A240 and Becerra v. Louisiana, No. 21241. Order and Opinion January 13, 2022 (S.Ct.)

Supreme Court Stays OSHA Emergency Covid-19 Vaccination Regulation


National Federation of Independent Business, et al.  v. Department of Labor, Occupational Health and Safety Administration, No. 21A244

Ohio, et al. v. Department of Labor, Occupational Health and Safety Administration, No. 21A247

Order and Opinion issued January 13, 2022 (S. Ct.)


The United States Supreme Court has issued an order staying the effect of an Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring larger employers to adopt policies requiring and administer records concerning employees’ Covid-19 vaccination (the “vaccine mandate”).  OSHA’s regulation requires employers of more than 100 employees to require employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19, or face termination.  Employers may offer weekly testing and continuous masking as an alternative to vaccination at the employees’ expense. 

The vaccine mandate is estimated to affect 84 million workers nationally.  Employers who fail to comply face fines.  

Why the Supreme Court intervened to stay the effect of the OSHA vaccine mandate. Applying established legal standards governing issuance of a stay, the majority of the justices have concluded that the employers and the states challenging the vaccine mandate are likely to prevail on the merits of their claims.

No authority to be found. Nothing in the statute creating OSHA or any measures relating to the Covid-19 pandemic reflects Congressional intent to expand OSHA’s powers to regulate and to administer workplace safety to include public health matters in general, the justices observed.  OSHA’s emergency Covid-19 measure purports to preempt public health concerns traditionally reserved to the states.

This is no small measure. The unprecedented scope of the OSHA emergency regulation, undertaken without notice and comment procedures as an emergency measure excusing compliance, indicates the need for clear congressional authorization of a measure which would exercise powers of vast economic and political significance. Slip opinion (per curiam) at 6, citing Alabama Assn. of Realtors v. Department of Health and Human Servs., 594 U. S. ___, ___ (2021) (per curiam) (slip op., at 6).

OSHA is a  workplace, not a public health, administration. OSHA is authorized to implement measures to address workplace safety, but OSHA has no authority to act as a federal public health agency regulating daily life.

Some room to act may exist notwithstanding the stay.  Vaccination, the majority noted, cannot be undone at the work day’s end.  Although OSHA lacks the vast powers it has attempted to exercise, particular industry working conditions may indicate vaccination would support employee health and safety.  OSHA might develop targeted mandates, but the sweeping mandate before the Court is causally untethered to the workplace, and is without historic precedent that would indicate it to be apt. 

The balance favors the affected employers and employees. Not only is OSHA without authority to regulate vaccination, equity favors a stay, the Court’s majority noted, as billions in unrecoverable compliance costs and fines will be incurred by employers, and many would lose their employment because of the OSHA vaccine mandate.

Three justices concur.  Justices Gorsuch, Thomas and Alito joined in a concurrence outlining the importance of the Constitutional principles governing governance itself as applied to the OSHA vaccine mandate.

Constitutional constraints.  The Constitution cabins legislative powers by requiring any exercise of federal legislative power to be tied to an enumerated Constitutional power, as powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states, as is true of public health regulation. Congress cannot elide its limits by conferring legislative powers on executive agencies.  Thus, when an executive agency undertakes vast new measures, its authority to take such actions must be clear (the “major questions” doctrine) and may not be indirectly assumed (the “nondelegation” doctrine).  

Fie on a burgeoning bureaucracy. These concepts are not mere academic footnotes, the concurrence asserts, but they act as fundamental guards against “government of bureaucracy supplanting government of the people.”  Concurrence Slip Op. at 6, citing Scalia, A. A Note on the Benzene Case, American Enterprise Institute, J. on Govt. & Soc., July–Aug. 1980, p. 27. 

The vaccine mandate is not good by any measure. Application of these principles supports the Court’s stay.  OSHA can locate no clear congressional authorization for its actions, and even if one were believed to exist, the vaccine mandate would violate nondelegation principles, as such authority would confer upon OSHA unlimited discretion without any meaningful specific limits.

Three justices dissent. Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan have dissented, opining that while examining the powers of coordinate branches, the Supreme Court has overstepped its limits as the majority has failed to recognize and to defer to agency expertise supporting the vaccine regulation, which regulation is of the very sort that OSHA exists to undertake.  

Up OSHA’s alley in any event. Workplace regulation is permissible even if similar hazards exist outside the workplace, and such regulation is apt where, as with the Covid-19 virus, workplace contagion is a recognized hazard which gravely threatens workers’ well-being.

The majority checks others’, but should also check itself. Although the majority focuses on the limits of legislative and executive powers, the majority fails to recognize that while executive agencies cannot act without legislative authorization, the Supreme Court may not read in or impose a limitation on agency action where none exists.  The Court has erred in issuing the stay, as the Court lacks the regulatory expertise that OSHA has.  Similarly, and also erroneously, the Court has incorrectly assessed the public interest served by OSHA’s undertaking measures to hinder the sickness and death the Covid-19 pandemic has precipitated. 

National Federation of Independent Business v. OSHA (01_13_2022)

Stay of OSHA Covid-19 Private Employer Vaccine Mandate Dissolved:  Sixth Circuit Panel Finds Employers Failed to Meet Standard for Granting Stay


In re:  MCP No. 165, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Interim Final Rule; Covid-19 Vaccination and Testing; Emergency Temporary Standard 86 Fed. Reg. 61402. No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.). Order dissolving Fifth Circuit stay entered December 17, 2021.


The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is now administering consolidated litigation from all federal circuits relating to the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS)  issued November 5, 2021.

The Emergency Temporary Standard  mandates that employers with more than one hundred employees require that employees be vaccinated against Covid-19 or be tested frequently and masked.  

On December 17, a three-member panel of judges of the Sixth Circuit dissolved the stay of the ETS entered by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals prior to multi-district litigation consolidation.  

Two of the three judges have published an opinion providing  a point-by-point refutation of the Fifth Circuit’s views  One judge has written a separate concurrence.  A third has dissented.  

No stealing bases. It appears that the courts may be experiencing ’emergency’ fatigue, and even if this is not so, skipping procedural steps has been discouraged. Earlier in the week the Sixth Circuit denied motions for initial review en banc.  This will serve to inhibit the litigants in seeking immediate review in the U.S. Supreme Court prior to seeking rehearing en banc and could aid the Supreme Court, if such immediate review is nonetheless sought, in remanding the case to the federal appellate court for further proceedings.  

          In procedurally unrelated but topically similar litigation, the United States Supreme Court has denied a petition to stay New York’s vaccine mandate pending review of a petition for certiorari which argues that New York’s failure to provide for religious exemption from vaccination violates the First Amendment.

The Opinion in the Multidistrict Litigation.  The Sixth Circuit perceives the Covid-19 virus to be an ongoing causative agent, one which has killed people and shut down the economy, which prompted employers to seek guidance from the Department of Labor Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), which in turn, on November 5, 2021, issued an Emergency Temporary Standard requiring certain employers to require employee vaccination or face covering and frequent testing.

          The Fifth Circuit enjoined implementation of the ETS the day after it was issued.  The court affirmed its decision a week later.

          The Sixth Circuit now observes that OSHA may issue emergency orders bypassing public notice and comment proceedings where grave danger requires employee protection.

          The OSHA emergency measure does not require employee vaccination, the court has found, as employees may be masked and tested or work from home, but employers must maintain vaccination records or face penalties. 

The Sixth Circuit panel has examined the four established evaluative factors to be considered in staying any measure before litigation.

Petitioners’ Likelihood of Success on the Merits.

          Authority for OSHA’s Action Exists.  Contrary to the Fifth Circuit’s determination, the Sixth Circuit perceives that OSHA may regulate infectious diseases within its statutory authority. 

          The “major questions” doctrine cited by the Fifth Circuit is an interpretive tool permitting exception from deference to agency authority, but it is vague and it is in any case inapplicable where agency authority has not been expanded, the court has explained.  

          Same emergency, different authority. The OSHA Covid-19 employer mandate can be distinguished from the eviction moratorium declared unconstitutional earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Centers for Disease Control lacks authority to regulate landlord-tenant relations, as the Supreme Court has found, but here, the Sixth Circuit panel has concluded, OSHA has established authority to regulate workplace safety.

          Moreover, OSHA gathered evidence substantiating its conclusion that an emergency exists.  The Sixth Circuit declined to find that any necessity permitting emergency intervention by OSHA be universal or absolute, but rather found that the persistence of workplace issues prompted issuance of the emergency temporary standard as the last arrow in the Secretary of Labor’s quiver. 

          The federal appellate judges dismissed attacks on the OSHA measure as over or under inclusive, finding that the efficacy of a measure, particularly an emergency measure, need not be perfectly calibrated or accompanied by a cost-benefit analysis.

          The panel dismissed the notion embraced by the Fifth Circuit that the OSHA mandate is in violation of the Commerce Clause, and impact on interstate commerce, such as viral contagion, is sufficient to establish a basis for federal law and federal preemption. 

          The Sixth Circuit judges found the non-delegation doctrine to be somewhat musty and in any case inapposite where it is well established that Congress may delegate to executive branch powers to act in the public interest or to protect public health. 

Whether Irreparable Harm Will Befall Petitioners in the Absence of a Stay. 

The Sixth Circuit explored the irreparable harm issue notwithstanding its view that its analysis of the petitioners’ assertions and arguments fail to demonstrate the likelihood of success on the merits, which could have ended the inquiry because the public interest analysis merges with the likelihood of success on the merits analysis where the government is a party.

The judges dismissed as “speculative” employers’ views of compliance cost, including loss of workers, and noted that if cited for non-compliance, an employer can always assert the impossibility of compliance as a defense.  The potential harm to the public of failure to implement Covid-19 contagion mitigation measures such as the OSHA employer mandate, in light of the harms already incurred by the nation, are staggering, and the risks to the public are only underscored where petitioners have not shown that they are likely to prevail on  the merits.  

Note well:  this panel’s opinion may not be within the judiciary’s bailiwick.

In a separate concurrence, Circuit Judge Gibbons has written to emphasize his view that the judicial branch ought not be as active in policy questions as this litigation has demanded.  The judge notes that questions of what the other branches might have done differently or “sweeping pronouncements” about constitutional law, themselves “untethered” to the present case, invite the judicial branch to exceed its limits.  Separation of powers principles preclude judicial second-guessing of coordinate branches.  Where a court concludes that an agency has acted within its authority and within constitutional bounds, the judge opined, the court ought not press further into realms committed to other branches’ expertise.  

Au Contraire:  Dissenting Judge Opines that Panel Analysis is Wrong

The dissenting member of the panel thinks the question of constitutional and statutory authority is squarely within the power of the judiciary.

The dissent wholly disagrees with the view that the OSHA emergency measure permits employers to decide how to manage workplace Covid-19 risks.  Employers must adopt written policies, demand that employees be vaccinated unless exempt, and pay employees who need time off to get vaccinated.  The mask and testing alternative was, by OSHA’s own admission, designed to be unpalatable as by its operation it imposes costs of testing on employers.

The dissent observes that it is not necessary that petitioners demonstrate a likelihood of success on each and every one of its theories in order to substantiate the need for a stay:  the potential to prevail on one theory would suffice.

Petitioners can demonstrate a likelihood of success, the dissent has concluded, because OSHA has exceeded its authority, which limits the promulgation of emergency measures to circumstances in which employees face grave danger and the emergency intervention is necessary to protect employees.

Where OSHA never made a finding that its rule was necessary, the rule cannot be upheld:  the insufficiency of extant measures, which is the justification offered by the Secretary of Labor, will.not meet the “necessary” standard. 

Moreover, effectiveness is a separate question that cannot be bootstrapped into a determination of necessity.

The dissenting justice rejects the notion that emergency measures, by their very nature, need not be as carefully crafted or supported as normative acts, and this is particularly so where OSHA has had nearly two years to consider protections and to evaluate alternatives.  Where no showing of necessity can be made, the emergency measure cannot be sustained.

Of similar concern is that the Secretary failed to locate a “grave danger” that would support the private employer vaccine mandate.  Although viral infection can be dangerous, there is no evidence showing that contracting the disease is a grave threat, as available data show varying levels of risk among different demographics.

There is no evidence linking contraction of Covid-19 to the workplace.  Those who are already vaccinated are not, by and large, imperiled.  Where a mortality rate of one in two hundred and two cases of infection is said to exist among the unvaccinated, OSHA has not met the “grave danger” requirement, particularly where no link to workplace harm has been shown.  

The dissent questions the panel’s minimization of the substance of the “major questions” concerns petitioners raise where OSHA has never issued an emergency measure of the scope of the Covid-19 employer mandate and, the dissent observes, the question is not simply one of the kind of measure OSHA may implement, but also its scope or degree (emphasis in text). 

Given the Supreme Court’s discussion of the “major questions” doctrine in declaring the CDC eviction moratorium to be invalid, it is not accurate to say, as this panel has, that the “major questions” doctrine is an arcane exception to deference to agency expertise.  

Finally, OSHA’s circumspection in other contexts supports similar caution here, and does not support promulgation of an expensive and unparalleled emergency measure.

Employers will be hamstrung by the costs of compliance and by the potential loss of employees that may ensue.  Similarly problematic is the loss that will result to individuals who submit to vaccination only to learn later, as they may,  that the command to do so was not supported in law. 

The dissent points out that OSHA cannot complain that petitioners have not substantiated their claims where by invoking emergency authority OSHA foreclosed the opportunity for notice and comment that would permit submission of evidence for agency consideration.  


Opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Dissolving Stay of OSHA Mandate

In re. MCP No. 165. Sixth Circuit Order December 17, 2021

Correspondence and Opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Denying Initial Hearing En Banc

In re. MCP No. 165, Sixth Circuit Order December 15, 2021

Order of the U.S. Supreme Court Denying Injunctive Relief with Dissenting Opinion

21A145 Dr. A v. Hochul, No. 21A 145 Order and Dissenting Opinion December 13, 2021

Litigation Contagion:  With Thirteen Vaccine Mandate Petitions Consolidated in the Sixth Circuit, OSHA Seeks Emergency Dissolution of Stay Entered by Fifth Circuit


Memoranda concerning the stay of the vaccine mandate, entered by the Fifth Circuit and consolidated in the Sixth Circuit, are due on November 30, with responses due December 7th and replies due December 10.  At this posting, no action has been taken on the government’s motion to expedite briefing.


All together now. With multidistrict litigation underway in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) seeks emergency dissolution of the stay of the Emergency Temporary Standard (the “Vaccine Mandate”) entered by the United States Court #v Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  Some petitioners object to the administration proceeding on an emergency basis, while others ask that the Sixth Circuit transfer all the proceedings to the Fifth Circuit.

Nationwide Vaccination or Testing Required of Certain Employers Stayed. The OSHA Vaccine Mandate, which requires employers of 100 or more employees to require employee vaccination or testing concerning Covid-19 or face significant fines, which would by its terms take effect on December 6, 2021, was stayed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on November 12, 2021.  

Ruling on retention, modification, or dissolution of the stay front and center. The Sixth Circuit, to which all petitions in twelve federal circuits were transferred by order of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, has invited briefing on whether the stay ought to be vacated, amended, or extended.  The federal respondents seek dissolution of the stay on an emergency basis.  Several petitioners seek initial hearing en banc before the federal appellate court.

Constitutional concerns about a measure said to be for the common good.  The Fifth Circuit entered a stay of the Vaccine Mandate based on its perception that the Vaccine Mandate is a sweeping national measure that presents grave constitutional concerns.  In ordering the halt of the mandate, the appellate court, among other determinations, found no statutory authority with which OSHA could create such a measure.  In the absence of explicit authority from Congress, the federal agency exceeded its statutory as well as Commerce Clause powers and encroached on public health rights reserved to the states.  Where OSHA has no authority, in the Fifth Circuit’s view, to regulate a hazard that is not confined to the workplace, OSHA cannot dictate the behavior of individuals using employers as a conduit.

Emergency action is necessary to address potentially lethal health consequences. OSHA argues that the Covid-19 virus has killed hundreds of thousands of people and that OSHA”s gathering of evidence supporting requiring vaccination is empirically sound, and that OSHA”s findings ought not be disturbed by the courts.  The federal government asserts that authority for monitoring contagious diseases was established decades ago with respect to blood-borne pathogens.

Employers hamstrung by compliance, particularly where resistant employees threaten to quit if vaccination required.  Opposing employers resist the government’s position that employers’ estimates of the costs of vaccine compliance are speculative.  Employers resent the government’s determination to proceed on an emergency basis before the Sixth Circuit has developed a comprehensive case management order or ruled on several pending motions for initial review en banc.  

Mandate’s impact not confined to employers and employees Employers stress that the impact of the vaccine mandate, if permitted to take effect, will force employees to choose between their work or their personal autonomy before the year end holidays.  As many essential workers are involved, the impact of the mandate will be felt by the public at large, as goods and services will not be manufactured and provided as planned.

Get litigation back to where it once belonged. While acknowledging that the Sixth Circuit has shown deference to the Fifth Circuit, some petitioners seek transfer of the consolidated multidistrict litigation to the Fifth Circuit, which has, it is argued,  already acquainted itself with the issues in the time sensitive vaccine mandate cases  

JustLawful Note:  Few would dispute that the reach of the vaccination mandate is historic, and it is hardly speculative to believe that the matter will reach the United States Supreme Court, nor is it unreasonable to think that the Sixth Circuit will promptly address the motions now before it. 


Case Materials

BST Holdings, et al. v. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, et al., No. 21-60845 (5th Cir.).  Opinion and Order November 12, 2021.

BST Holdings et al v. OSHA, No. 21-60845 (5th Cir.) Order November 12, 2021

In re. MCP No. 165:  OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.).  Docket as of November 28, 2021.

In re. MCP No. 165,, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.) Docket as of November 28, 2021

In re:  Occupational Safety and Health Administration Interim Final Rule:  COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing:  Emergency Temporary Standard, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, Issued November 4, 2021.  United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, MCP No. 165.  Consolidation Order, November 18, 2021.

In re: Occupational Safety and Health Administration Interim Final Rule: COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing: Emergency Temporary Standard, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, Issued November 4, 2021. United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, MCP No. 165. Consolidation Order, November 18, 2021.

Phillips Manufacturing and Tower Company, et al. v. U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, No. 21-4028 (6th Cir.) Petition for Initial Hearing en Banc, November 17, 2021.

Phillips Manufacturing and Tower v. OSHA, No. 21-4028 (6th Cir.) Petition for Initial Hearing en Banc, November 17, 2021

In re. MCP No. 165:  OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.). Initial Case Management Order, November 21, 2021.

Initial Case Management Order In re MCP No. 165 OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing

In re. OSHA Rule on Covid-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61401, No. 21-4018, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.) Respondents’ Emergency Motion to Dissolve Stay, November 23, 2021.

In re OSHA Rule on Covid-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61401, No. 21-4018, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.). Respondents’ Emergency Motion to Dissolve Stay, November 23, 2021

In re. OSHA Rule on Covid-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61401, No. 21-4018, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.).  Respondents’ Motion to Amend Schedule for Stay Briefing and to Set Schedule for Merits Briefing, November 24, 2021

In re OSHA Rule on Covid-19, Respondents Motion to Amend Schedule for Stay Briefing, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.) November 24, 2021

In re. MCP No. 165:  OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.). Job Creators’ Network, et al. v. OSHA, et al.  Opposition to Respondents’ Emergency Motion to Dissolve Stay, November 23, 2021.

In re OSHA Rule on Covid-19 Vaccination and Testing, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.) Job Creators’ Network et al. Opposition to Emergency Motion to Dissolve Stay, November 23, 2021

In re. MCP No. 165:  OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.). Motion to Transfer by BST Holdings, et al., November 23, 2021

In re. MCP No. 165:  OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.). Motion to Transfer by BST Holdings, et al., November 23, 2021

In re. MCP No. 165:  OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.). Motion to Hold in Abeyance Government’s Emergency Motion to Dissolve Stay, November 23, 2021

In re MCP 165 OSHA Rule on Vaccination and Testing, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.) Motion to Hold in Abeyance Government’s Emergency Motion to Dissolve Stay

In re. MCP No. 165:  OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.).  Order, November 23, 2021.

In re MCP 165, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.) Order November 23, 2021

A Vaccination Compliance Cauldron: Ten States Insist Federal Covid-19 Healthcare Providers’ Mandate Is Constitutionally, Statutorily, and Procedurally Unsound

Missouri, et al. v. Biden, et al., No. 21-cv-01329 (E.D. Mo.). Complaint filed November 20, 2021.


Ten states have joined in challenging the action of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in promulgating an Interim Final Rule with Comment Period (IFC) that conditions health care providers’ receipt of federal funding and reimbursement on employee or contractor vaccination against COVID-19.  

Providers and Employees Threatened. Health care providers whose employees fail to comply with the federally mandated demand that all health care workers be vaccinated against Covid-19 may lose federal funding,   As vaccination refusal will threaten employer compliance with the federal measure, unvaccinated employees may lose their jobs.

Exacerbation, Not Mitigation.  The states submit that this sweeping federal incursion on health care administration threatens to exacerbate an already extant crisis in health care provision, which crisis only deepened during the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing states to undertake drastic measures to ameliorate the deadly synergies of two crises which individually would have sufficed to cause health care services to crater. 

          To the extant shortage of workers and threat of harm from viral infection the federal government has added a compliance burden that, the states contend, violates the interests of the states, the healthcare providers and entities within the states, and the healthcare workers who must submit to vaccination or face termination. 

State Standing.  Having brought their complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, the states and their attorneys general assert standing premised on exercise of parens patriae powers or statutory authorizations. 

Effective Immediately.  The Interim Final Rule, also called  the CMS vaccine mandate, became effective on publication on publication in the Federal Register on November 5th.  Its protocol demands at least partial vaccination compliance by the first week of December, a deadline that only compounds the problems the rule has caused, the states note.  

          Most significantly, the states argue, the Interim Final Rule is not merely factually detrimental to the provision of health care services, the rule itself and the manner in which the rule was crafted is in violation of central components of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and the United States Constitution.

The CMS Vaccine Mandate Makes Matters Worse.  The complaining states assert that the sweeping federal incursion on providers’ rights will exacerbate and extant shortage of workers.  The federal scheme is an unconstitutional abridgment of rights traditionally reserved to the states, and is not only legally flawed but also is, as a practical matter, administratively disastrous, as the health care needs of densely populated urban areas are markedly varied from those of rural settings.  

The CMS vaccine mandate must be set aside.  The states ask that the federal court declare the CMS vaccine rule be declared invalid constitutionally and in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and other statutes, and that its enforcement be enjoined.

Not an overnight development.  Healthcare workforce shortages predate the COVID-19 pandemic by decades, the states recount.  Nursing shortages, already critical, have been made all the more so by the demands for urgent and other care precipitated by the pandemic. Many nursing professionals feel they cannot continue to work as they have been.  Many have been attracted to positions offering better working conditions are higher compensation. 

          Staffing shortages threaten the capacity of hospitals to administer care.  To address pandemic care needs, states relaxed standards for the provision of services, permitted workers to work without vaccination, and expanded telehealth services.

          The states are critical of the implementation of the administrative rule per see where doing so represents and Executive Branch about face from federal non-involvement in vaccination to a nationwide push for COVID-19 vaccination compliance that threatens workers with loss of employment and provider entities with loss of available federal funding.   

Reaching beyond providers.  Where health care workers cannot work, providers will be unable to provide services, and the patient public will be denied care.  Each of these outcomes, the states observe, is contrary to sound policies of health care delivery.

A diverse panoply of providers under a single rubric.   There are fifteen categories of Medicare and Medicaid providers, encompassing urban and rural clinics, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and home health agencies. 

          CMS reports that nearly all hospitals within the United States are connected in some measure to Medicare and Medicaid.  Although CMS has recognized the diverse purposes and practices of these categories of providers and suppliers, CMS has embroidered on all covered providers and suppliers the measures applicable to long-term care facilities, the states observe. 

          Moreover, CMS appears to recognize the adverse consequences of the vaccine mandate:  failure to comply will threaten health care workers with loss of employment, which in turn will deepen an already critical worker shortage, which in turn will impact access to care.

No comment.  The states point out that there has never before been a federal vaccination mandate, and that the newly-effective rule is unsound on multiple grounds.  The states notes that CMS abandoned the comment period ordinarily required for rules of the magnitude of the unprecedented healthcare vaccine mandate.  Moreover, CMS has failed to locate with accuracy its authority to promulgate the vaccine mandate.

Unauthorized rule-making. The states argue that there is no statutory authority for the CMS vaccine mandate, and that none of the authorities cited by the CMS as authorizing the mandate do so.  This legally unsupported rule will cause the states great economic harm, particularly as states will not only be threatened with loss of federal resources but the states’ own administrative resources have been conscripted to serve the federal government. 

Hindsight unavailing.  The states submit that the CMS has relied on post-hoc rationalizations to support the rule, an impermissible approach which renders the measure arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with law. 

Constitutionally intrusive.  The states argue that compulsory vaccination is traditionally a power reserved to the states.  The federal expansion of power over the states violates the Tenth Amendment, the states submit.

Doctrinally unsound.  The states argue that the CMS vaccine mandate is unsound as it is a measure of national breadth and depth that is not supported by clear Congressional directive, and thus runs afoul of the major questions doctrine.   Similarly, the co of a Congressional articulation of an intelligible guiding principle, the CMS vaccine rule violates principles of non-delegation.

Outside professional bounds.  The states observe that the CMS vaccine mandate is precluded by the Social Security Act, which forbids supervision or control over the practice and provision of medicine and medical services.

Procedurally flawed.  The states submit that the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) is not inaptly named, and that no sound excuse exists for CMS’ failure to adhere to notice and comment procedures which permit interested persons’ participation in administrative processes.  

          CMS not only failed to adhere to these processes but its rule became effective on publication with initial compliance to be completed within thirty days.  Additionally, CMS failed to comply with the sixty-day pre-publication requirement of the Social Security Act.  

Input not sought.  CMS failed to confer with the states concerning the mandate as it is required to do.

Unconstitutional conditions imposed.   The federal government may not impose conditions on funding unrelated to the programs impacted or without notice to the states that vaccination would be required in order to obtain federal funds.  

State resources conscripted.  In enacting measures which threaten providers’ finances through demands on employees, the states observe that is is an infringement on state powers for the federal government to demand that state administrative resources be expended in service of federal aims.

Declaratory and injunctive relief sought: looking forward. The states have requested declaratory and injunctive relief which would nullify the CMS vaccine mandate and prohibit its enforcement.  At this writing the federal court has not issued any orders relating to the case, although in light of the abbreviated time frame for compliance with the CMS vaccine mandate, it is anticipated that there will be activity related to this case soon.  

Missouri, et al. v. Biden, et al., No. 21-cv-01329 (E.D. Mo.) Complaint






As Vaccination Regulation Litigation Erupts, the Fifth Circuit Stays Mandate Pending Expedited Briefing


 

BST Holdings, et al. v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor, No. 21-60845 (5th Cir.). Per curiam order entered November 6, 2021.


 

On Friday, November 5, both the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published regulations in the federal register respectively governing mandatory Covid-19 vaccination or testing and masking for employees of certain employers and governing mandatory vaccination within health care providing entities, the failure to comply with which would threaten federal financial support.

The same day, litigation challenging the labor based regulations was filed in four federal circuit courts of appeal. At this time, there are no known proceedings challenging the CMS regulation, although some have promised that litigation will be commenced.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, perceiving that the litigation presents “grave” issues of statutory and constitutional law, today stayed the mandate pending expedited briefing, to be completed by Tuesday, November 9.

The challengers in the Fifth Circuit are private employers impacted by the federal vaccine mandate, which governs entities with one hundred or more employees These private entities have been joined by several states.

The challengers argue that the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard which is proffered as the premise for mandating vaccination does not and cannot support that demand, as the authority of OSHA is limited to workplace hazards and dangers which would place a virus beyond its scope.

Even if it could be seen that regulation might be possible, it would be constitutionally impermissible on these facts, the challengers assert, as the present federal vaccination scheme does not touch upon interstate commerce, as any exercise of such powers in the absence of a defined Congressional standard violates the non-delegation doctrine, and as the power to address questions of public health in the manner envisioned here is reserved to the states for administration under the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Moreover, the authority of the Department of Labor is constrained to administration of employment and work related matters, and it is beyond the scope of its powers to regulate individual health choices in the guise of imposing an obligation on employers.

Challenges to the new federal measures in other circuits raise additional claims, submitting to the courts that the vaccine mandate offends the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In that there is a limited period of time within which to challenge these regulations, it is likely that these cases will unfold quickly. It is less likely, however, that any of the litigation will ‘skip a grade’ and proceed on an emergency basis to the U.S. Supreme Court. In recent weeks the Supreme Court has on three occasions declined to hear petitions for emergency relief concerning vaccination mandates.

All this unfolds amid multiple challenges in other forums, not the least of which are challenges to regulations extending mandated vaccination beyond federal employees to employees of federal contractors.

The “headline power” of the private employer mandate discussed here ought not obscure the significance of any of the other litigation concerning the sweeping exercise of federal powers premised on a perceived public health emergency in itself has been called into question.

Order of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit:

BST Holdings, et al. v. OSHA, No. 21-60845 (5th Cir.). Per curiam order entered November 6, 2021_

Challenges to the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS):

BST Holdings, et al. v. OSHA, No. 21-60845 (5th Cir.) Petitioners Brief November 5, 2021

Commonwealth of Kentucky, et al. v. OSHA (6th Cir.) Petition Filed November 5, 2021

State of Missouri, et al., v. Joseph R. Biden, President of the United States, et al. (8th Cir.) Petition Filed November 5, 2021

State of Florida, et al. v. OSHA (11th Cir.) Petition Filed November 5, 2021