Court temporarily blocks Biden’s vaccine mandate.

ImagePresident Biden at the White House on Wednesday. The president’s vaccine mandate for large employers suffered a legal setback on Saturday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

A federal appeals panel on Saturday temporarily blocked a new vaccine mandate for large businesses, in a sign that the Biden administration may face an uphill battle in its biggest effort yet to combat the virus among the American work force.

The stay, issued by a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Louisiana, doesn’t have an immediate impact. The first major deadline in the new rule is Dec. 5, when companies with at least 100 employees must require unvaccinated employees to wear masks indoors. Businesses have until Jan. 4 to mandate Covid vaccinations or start weekly testing of their workers.

But Saturday’s move provided momentum for a wide coalition of opponents of the rule, who have argued that it is unconstitutional. A group of businesses, religious groups, advocacy organizations and several states, including Louisiana and Texas, had filed a petition on Friday with the court, arguing that the administration had overstepped its authority.

It was unclear whether the stay would be a procedural blip for the Biden administration or the first step in the unwinding of the mandate.

At the core of the legal challenge is the question of whether OSHA exceeded its authority in issuing the rule and whether such a mandate would need to be passed by Congress. A similar issue was in play when a Texas court in late 2016 halted an Obama-era Labor Department rule that would have made millions more Americans eligible for overtime pay. The Trump administration, which took office the next year, said it would not defend the overtime rule.

The suit against the mandate stated that President Biden “set the legislative policy” of substantially increasing the number of Americans covered by vaccination requirements, and “then set binding rules enforced with the threat of large fines.”

“That is a quintessential legislative act — and one wholly unrelated to the purpose of OSHA itself, which is protecting workplace safety,” the suit said. “Nowhere in OSHA’s enabling legislation does Congress confer upon it the power to end pandemics.”

A separate lawsuit against the new rule was also filed on Friday in the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis by 11 Republican-led states, among them Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah.

The Fifth Circuit panel said in a brief order, signed by a deputy clerk, that the judges were blocking the regulation “because the petitions give cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the mandate.” It said the rule was suspended “pending further action by this court.”

The two-page order directed the Biden administration to respond by 5 p.m. Monday to the group’s request for a permanent injunction.

Seema Nanda, the chief legal officer for the Department of Labor, said in a statement that the government was confident in its legal authority to issue the mandate on vaccinations and testing.

“The Occupational Safety and Health Act explicitly gives OSHA the authority to act quickly in an emergency where the agency finds that workers are subjected to a grave danger and a new standard is necessary to protect them,” Ms. Nanda said.

“We are fully prepared to defend this standard in court,” she added.

After both sides have filed briefs, the court will decide whether to lift the temporary injunction, allowing the rule to proceed as planned, or whether to grant a permanent injunction. OSHA could then take the case to the Supreme Court.

“The side that is asking for the injunction has to prove that this rule violates the Constitution,” said Mark F. Kluger, founding partner at the employment law firm Kluger Healey. “That’s a really tough burden to meet,” he added, noting that “federal agencies over the years have become increasingly aggressive about passing or creating rules.”

As an example, he cited the National Labor Relations Board’s rules for union elections. But not all such efforts have been upheld up by the courts.

“The fight is not over and I will never stop resisting this Admin’s unconstitutional overreach!” Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas, who had challenged the mandate, said in a tweet on Saturday.

Mr. Paxton has previously called the Biden administration’s mandate a “breathtaking abuse of federal power” and is one of the attorneys general who has sued the administration over federal worker vaccine mandates.

The Louisiana attorney general, Jeff Landry, said in a tweet that the court’s decision was a “major win for the liberty of job creators and their employees.” Attorney General Alan Wilson of South Carolina also applauded the court’s decision on Twitter. “The Constitution will prevail,” he wrote. “The President is not above the law.”

But David Michaels, a leader of OSHA during the Obama administration, described the court’s move on Saturday as a faulty ruling with political motivations. “The same activist court that refused to stay Texas’ law that permits bounty hunters to sue anyone who aids an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy has stayed an OSHA rule that is clearly within OSHA’s authority, will save lives and make workplaces safe.”

Credit…Associated Press

NEW DELHI — Eleven people died after a fire broke out in a coronavirus intensive care unit in the western state of Maharashtra, the latest in a series of fatal disasters in Covid-19 wards in India.

Hospital staff tried to douse the fire that started Saturday morning with fire extinguishers, but the flames spread quickly in the airtight room, cutting the power out and forcing people to flee to safety, said Shankar Misal, the fire chief in the Ahmednagar district.

“It created huge, black smoke inside. It was completely dark,” he said.

Within minutes, firefighters had shattered windowpanes and lifted out 15 patients from the 17-bed facility. Most of the 11 patients who died suffocated from smoke, Mr. Misal said. The survivors’ medical condition was not immediately known.

The fire department is investigating whether an electrical short circuit caused the blaze. The Covid-19 ward was among many built hastily across India to accommodate a deluge of patients through the pandemic.

India’s infection curve is down sharply from the peak of its second wave in June, but the country is still reporting about 13,000 new cases daily.

Maharashtra’s top elected official, the chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, wrote on Twitter to express his “deep anguish over the incident.”

India’s health system — fragile and underfunded even in normal times — has experienced enormous strain during waves of the pandemic. In June, hospitals in the capital, New Delhi, and the state capital of Maharashtra, Mumbai, ran out of beds, medical oxygen and staff, and turned away patients who died outside the gates.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ramped up the country’s health care infrastructure, but health is managed at a state level in India, and the standard of care and conditions at hospitals vary greatly from one region to the next.

Credit…J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

A Rhode Island man who federal prosecutors said used stolen identities to obtain more than $450,000 in pandemic-related unemployment assistance was arrested in Michigan, the authorities said.

Dquintz Alexander, 34, of Cranston, R.I., was indicted and charged in federal court in Boston on five counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft, according to the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts.

As the coronavirus pandemic devastated the economy in March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which among other things created a temporary federal unemployment insurance program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. The program granted unemployment insurance benefits to people who lost their jobs or were unable to work because of the coronavirus.

The pandemic unemployment program, which is administered by each state, lowered the barriers to collecting benefits, and the usual security methods intended to prevent fraud were not able to keep up with security breaches. Last year in California, an underground internet bazaar that specialized in selling stolen accounts and data had for-sale ads for filched unemployment insurance claims in the state that had been approved and offered benefits worth $17,550.

The U.S. Labor…

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