CORONAVIRUS | MANDATES

Is a mandate the same as a law? Are mandates enforceable?

President Biden issued a vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors, along with companies that have 100 or more employees, can it be enforced?

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Is a mandate the same as a law?
MIKE BLAKE REUTERS

The covid-19 pandemic has seen mask mandates and ordinances put in place to stem the spread of the disease. Now that the Pfizer-BioNTech covid-19 vaccine has gained full FDA approval for those 16 and older one legal barrier to similar mandates for getting vaccinated has been crossed.

President Biden, as part of his Covid-19 Action Plan, signed a series of executive orders mandating all federal employees get vaccinated including contractors and their staff that do business with the government. The Labor Department will also be directed to implement a new emergency rule requiring all businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure all their staff are either vaccinated or have a negative covid-19 test once a week. Failure to comply will come with a stiff fine of $14,000.

Is the vaccine mandate a law?

The federal vaccine mandate, although not passed by the US Congress, still carries the same legal requirement that it be followed and will be the law of the land until it expires, is canceled, revoked or is found unlawful by the courts. The US Constitution’s Second Amendment gives the President his authority to issue executive orders, along with additional Acts of Congress.

Executive orders, or directives, like laws passed by Legislatures can be called mandates and can have sunset clauses, taken off the books at a later date or be found unconstitutional by the courts and struck down.

Is it legal to mandate vaccination against covid-19?

There is strong Supreme Court precedent backing President Biden’s executive order madating vaccination and companies that require their workforce to be vaccinated, if they don’t qualify for a medical or religious exemption. The second will prove a sticky issue going forward as those seeking the exemption must show they have “sincerely held beliefs” against getting vaccinated on religious grounds. No major denomination opposes vaccination but the leaders on some congregations are handing out religious exemption forms to members of their flocks for the covid-19 vaccine.

The Supreme Court ruled in Jacobson v. Massachusetts over a century ago that madatory vaccination against smallpox was constitutional because most of the members of the medical profession “have considered the risk of [harm] too small to be seriously weighed as against the benefits coming from the discreet and proper use of the preventive.” The Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett recently rejected a bid to stop the University of Indiana’s vaccine mandate brought by eight students.

More lawsuits are teeing up across the US as companies began madating their employees get vaccinated even before the President’s speech and executive orders on Thrusday. But legal experts say that these lawsuits have little chance of succeeding now that the Pfizer vaccine has been given the FDA’s full approval and that mandatory vaccination against other diseases are commonplace.

The Supreme Court in 1905 said “There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good. On any other basis, organized society could not exist with safety to its members. Society based on the rule that each one is a law unto himself would soon be confronted with disorder and anarchy. Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others."