Courts push back against COVID mandates as Americans' support for such measures dwindles

Biden administration has set tone nationwide for COVID-19 mandates, but in recent months the president's approval on the issue has steadily dropped.

Updated: January 26, 2022 - 8:41am

U.S. courts are handing losses to Democrat-led COVID-19 polices around the nation, from federal to state rulings, as polling shows Americans are souring on the Biden administration's approach to the pandemic.

New York Judge Thomas Rademaker threw out Gov. Kathy Hochul's mask mandate this week, blocking the Democratic governor's order for certain businesses.

At the same time, Texas Judge Jeffrey Brown granted an injunction to block the Biden administration's vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors. Brown said the case in question considers whether the president can "with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment.

"That, under the current state of the law as currently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far," he added.

Brown's injunction comes just days after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Biden's federal vaccine mandate for private sector employers with at least 100 workers

The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 vote against that mandate, writing that the president does not have the authority to give the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) the power to implement an economy-wide federal mandate of that kind.

On Tuesday, OSHA officially withdrew the rule.

Battles like this have played out at the state and local level around the country. In Utah, the state legislature enacted a measure last week to overturn mask mandates in Salt Lake and Summit counties.

The Biden administration has set the tone nationwide for COVID-19 policies and mandates, but in recent months the president's approval on the issue has steadily dropped.

Polling released by Quinnipiac earlier this month reported Biden's approval rating at a low of 33%.

"Americans give President Joe Biden a negative 33–53 percent job approval rating, while 13 percent did not offer an opinion," Quinnipiac said. "In November 2021, Americans gave Biden a negative 36–53 percent job approval rating with 10 percent not offering an opinion."

A major driver of that decline has been a decrease in support for Biden's work on the coronavirus. According to the Quinnipiac poll, only 39% of those surveyed approved of Biden's work on the pandemic, while 55% disapprove.

Recent polling also shows Americans have become less concerned about the virus over time, which may be weakening their support for more aggressive COVID-19 mandates.

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released new polling this month that showed only 37% of surveyed Americans list COVID-19 as one of their top five concerns that government should work on. Meanwhile, 68% of those surveyed pointed to an economic concern as an issue the government should be focused on.

Other groups are hoping the shift in public opinion, and particularly the court losses, provide new hope for their efforts.

A group of Navy SEALs who were denied religious exemptions to the vaccine have filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration. U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced last year all service members must be vaccinated or face discharge.

Earlier this month, a federal judge issued an injunction in their case preventing the Navy from taking action against the service members until their case is resolved.

The Navy SEALS argue their exemption requests were not given fair consideration. On the heels of the recent Supreme Court ruling, they amended their lawsuit to be a class action case that includes "all U.S. Navy personnel who have requested a religious accommodation from the Navy's vaccine mandate."

"Our clients are boldly leading the fight against the vaccine mandate, but no service member should face discipline or punishment for following their faith," said Mike Berry, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute, the group representing the Navy SEALs. "The fact that the military continues to demonstrate hostility to anyone who expresses religious objection to the vaccine mandate shows that the Biden Administration does not care about religious freedom. The lawsuit seeks to protect as many service members as possible from further punishment. We have to put a stop to this before any more harm is done to our national security."

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