A U.S. District Court judge has struck down a vaccine mandate for federally-employed preschool workers, and a masking requirement for the preschoolers, in 24 states, including Wyoming.
U.S. District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty compared the vaccine and masking mandate to “tyranny.”
“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many … may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny,” wrote Doughty, quoting James Madison in his ruling against the mandate.
Doughty’s order, filed Sept. 21, forbids the U.S. Health and Human Services department from requiring Head Start preschool employees, classroom volunteers and contractors working with children and families to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. The mandate also required preschoolers ages 2-4 to wear masks in preschools nationwide.
But Doughty’s injunction of the law only applies in 24 states, including Wyoming, which was among the states that sued the U.S. Health and Human Services Department for dispatching the rule.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Nov. 30, 2021, ordered Head Start preschool workers, volunteers and contractors to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by the end of January 2022.
The rule also required children ages 2-4 to wear masks at school and in Head Start vehicles.
Doughty paused that requirement on Jan. 1 and considered the case until the injunction issued in September.
Head Start is a federal preschool program for children of low-income families. It has about 273,600 employees, 864,000 students and about 1 million volunteers.
Doughty noted in his ruling that the mandate came 82 days after President Joe Biden on Sept. 9, 2021, said his patience was “wearing thin” with people “who haven’t gotten vaccinated.”
Wyoming and 23 other states, along with individual plaintiff preschool teacher Sandy Brick, sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, both agencies’ leaders and the Head Start Director on Dec. 21, 2021.
Brick and the states argued that the mandate was invasive, that it interfered with states’ “quasi-sovereignty” and would cause irreparable harm both to preschool employees and to states’ lawmaking power.
The federal bureaus argued, conversely, that they had the right to mandate vaccination and masking because HHS is allowed to “modify” its own programs, because Head Start staffers check on preschoolers’ health throughout the course of their duties, and because the HHS secretary can implement standards he “finds to be appropriate.”
The court rejected the bureaus’ arguments.
Doughty wrote that Congress gave the Department of Health and Human Services the right to tweak its programs, but not to make changes of “vast economic and political significance.”
“There is nothing in (laws defining the bureaus) which would allow Agency Defendants to make medical decisions for employees and volunteers, and/or to require 2, 3, and 4-year-old students to wear masks the majority of the day,” wrote Doughty.
He also noted that since there were no additional funds given for the weekly testing of exempted workers, a required provision under the department’s rule, the states or local workers would have had to cover the costs of that requirement.