The appellate court in Boston on Friday denied an emergency request to keep Gov. Janet Mills’ COVID-19 vaccine mandate from being enforced, marking the second legal defeat in a week for mandate opponents.
Maine’s mandate that requires health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 29 or risk losing their jobs.
The three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not explain the decision but issued a one-sentence statement saying the request for an emergency injunction halting the mandate was denied. It has placed the case on a so-called fast track and could issue an opinion next week.
The Liberty Counsel, the religious organization that sued Mills over the vaccine mandate, said that despite the denial issued Friday, the appellate court has asked that briefs on the underlying issues be filed Monday.
“A final ruling will likely be issued next week,” the religious organization said. “If it is not favorable, Liberty Counsel will file an immediate protection agreement with the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Friday was the last day health care workers could get vaccinated and meet the deadline due to the two-week waiting period before someone is considered fully vaccinated.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Jon Levy denied a motion for a preliminary injunction that argued the mandate violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act because it does not include a religious exemption. The mandate does include a medical exemption for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.
The judge found that the plaintiffs had not yet shown that they would prevail in the long run, one of the standards for granting the injunction. Another standard is that the preliminary injunction must be in the public interest, which Levy found the plaintiffs hadn’t shown.
The judges’ denial of the motion means that, for now, they agree with Levy’s analysis of the issues presented when he refused to stop the mandate from being implemented.
“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Maine, and specifically stemming outbreaks in designated healthcare facilities to protect patients and healthcare workers, is a legitimate government interest,” Levy said. “For several reasons, the mandate is rationally related to this interest.”
The judge wrote that the vaccine mandate will raise vaccination rates in health care facilities that have been susceptible to COVID-19 outbreaks, which have primarily been the result of employees bringing the virus into their workplaces with them. Vaccinations of health care workers will reduce the risk of such outbreaks, Levy said.
The three-judge panel in Boston was made up of Jeffrey Howard of New Hampshire and Sandra Lynch and David Barron, both of Massachusetts.
The Liberty Counsel, which filed the lawsuit in August in U.S. District Court in Bangor, claims it is representing more than 2,000 health care workers across the state. While employees may obtain medical exemptions to the vaccine requirement, there is no religious or philosophical exemption in the policy.