Opioid Settlement Louisiana

FILE - In this April 1, 2019, file photo, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry talks about health care legislation he's backing in the upcoming session, in Baton Rouge, La. Louisiana intends to divvy up the $325 million it expects to receive from a national settlement of opioid epidemic lawsuits to parish sheriffs and local governments to provide addiction treatment, response and recovery services, Attorney General Landry said Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.

A federal appeals court in Louisiana has halted a Biden administration order requiring companies with more than 100 employees to mandate COVID vaccines or weekly testing.

Saturday’s decision from the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeal prevents the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from enforcing the mandate until further judicial review.

The panel behind the ruling comprises Edith Jones, of Houston, whom President Ronald Reagan nominated to the court; Kyle Duncan, of Baton Rouge, nominated by President Donald Trump; and Kurt Engelhardt, of Metairie, another Trump appointee. In their decision, the judges said the petitions gave them "cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the mandate."

OSHA must file a response by Monday.

The ruling comes after Louisiana joined the legal fight — backed by at least two dozen other GOP-leaning states — to block the vaccine rules for businesses and federal contractors. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry filed back-to-back lawsuits in federal court on Thursday and Friday that challenged both orders.

Under the OSHA mandate, employees for companies with more than 100 workers must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 or get tested weekly and wear masks while on the clock. 

The policy also involved sending OSHA agents to inspect businesses for compliance and giving the agency authority to issue fines of more than $130,000 for violations.

Vaccination requirements for federal contractors and subcontractors are more stringent and don't offer an in-lieu testing option, though workers can seek limited exemptions.

According to an Associated Press count, 27 states joined the lawsuits over the pandemic orders, including Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, Kansas and Texas.

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A host of private companies also signed onto the legal challenges, with some business owners arguing the rules would make it harder for them to hire and retain employees.

Federal workplace safety officials estimate OSHA’s requirements could affect as many as 84 million workers.

However, OSHA officials say the rules — decreed by executive order — will save thousands of lives and prevent more than 250,000 hospitalizations from workplace exposure to COVID, which has killed more than 750,000 Americans and 14,615 Louisianans since the pandemic began in March 2020.

U.S. Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said the federal order empowers OSHA to act quickly on behalf of workers exposed to the "grave danger" of the coronavirus. Since so many people nationwide have ignored calls to get vaccinated against COVID, she said a new standard is required to protect workers.  

The lawsuit targeting the workplace rules claims OSHA has been bombarding state agencies with notices to comply with the mandate or risk losing out on federal funding, although Landry's office did not provide any examples of threats when asked Friday; his legal filings do not identify any in Louisiana. 

Landry, who claimed Biden’s policy on federal contractors would cost Louisiana billions of dollars, praised the court’s decision.

“The court’s action not only halts Biden from moving forward with his unlawful overreach, but it also commands the judicious review we sought,” he said in a news release. “The president will not impose medical procedures on the American people without the checks and balances afforded by the Constitution.”

David Mitchell contributed to this report.

This story has been corrected to note that President Donald Trump appointed Engelhardt to the 5th Circuit. President George W. Bush had appointed Engelhardt to the U.S. District Court in New Orleans.