RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The Biden administration wants a slew of lawsuits against its COVID-19 testing and vaccine mandate heard by one court. And that court should be selected randomly next week, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a letter Monday.
For now, the mandate will remain on hold. And while on hold, North Carolina’s labor commissioner said the state will enforce no mandate.
A federal appeals court judge in Louisiana temporarily paused the mandate Saturday after hearing “cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the mandate.”
The requirements, from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, call on companies with 100 or more workers to require COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly testing by Jan. 4.
The pause on the mandate – an emergency stay – is meant to put the requirements on hold while the legal case works its way through the courts.
In response to the judge’s hold put in place over the weekend, the Justice Department filed a letter with the court Monday, pointing out that under federal law, because the mandate faces legal challenges in numerous courts (a dozen lawsuits outlined in the letter) a judicial panel must “by means of random selection” pick one court to handle the cases.
That “lottery “for that selection will happen on Nov. 16.
“They literally will put names of courts in the drum and pick the names out, and that court will be the one that consolidates the appeals from across the country and will ultimately hear the challenge,” said Jeffrey Hirsch, professor of employment and labor law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
According to the DOJ’s letter, the court chosen to handle the cases will decide whether to keep the mandate on hold – or remove the emergency stay.
RELATED: Click to view the entire response from the Biden administration (pdf document)
The Biden administration formally responded to the stay Monday and argued that “no reason exists” to rule on a permanent injunction immediately since the mandates do not take effect until January.
The administration also argued those filing the lawsuits “are not likely to succeed on the merits” of their case, with the government calling their arguments “contrary to the considerable evidence that OSHA has analyzed and discussed” in instituting the requirements.
The Biden administration argues continuing the hold on the mandate into January would “likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day.”
The vaccine and testing mandate is the most significant measure to date put in place by the Biden administration in an attempt to boost testing and vaccine rates. OSHA’s guidance cited “grave danger” posed to workers by COVID-19.
At the White House briefing Monday, spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters the administration is confident it has legal authority for the mandate, and called on companies to continue planning for the requirements to take effect.
“We think people should not wait. We say do not wait to take actions that will keep your workplace safe,” Jean-Pierre said.
But in North Carolina, Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson told CBS 17 Monday, state officials will not enforce a mandate that is still facing legal challenges.
“I would tell businesses to not do anything at this point,” Dobson said.