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Head Start Vaccine, Masking Mandates Halted by Federal Courts

Jan. 3, 2022, 8:11 PM

The Biden administration’s requirements that Head Start staff be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and that program participants wear masks were halted in large swaths of the country by a pair of federal courts in Texas and Louisiana, which said the executive branch likely exceeded its authority.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies in November announced that all Head Start staff, volunteers working in classrooms or directly with children, and contractors whose activities involve contact with families must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 31. It also required immediate masking by all individuals two years of age or older in indoor settings where Head Start services are provided, as well as certain crowded outdoor settings. A number of states challenged the mandates.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on Dec. 31 granted a preliminary injunction barring the enforcement of the mandates within Texas while the case proceeds. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana on Jan. 1 granted a similar preliminary injunction covering the 24 states taking part in that litigation.

There’s “a substantial likelihood that the mandates do not fit within the Head Start Act’s authorizing text,” and HHS failed to follow the proper procedure in crafting them, Judge James Wesley Hendrix of the Texas court said. There’s also a significant likelihood the rules are arbitrary and capricious, in part because they impose “a one-size-fits-all approach with no end date,” Hendrix added.

Similarly Judge Terry A. Doughty of the Louisiana court said that the powers granted to the agencies by Congress “do not include, or imply, the power to impose vaccine and/or mask mandates,” adding that the plaintiffs made a strong case that the mandates violate the states’ police power under the Tenth Amendment.

The cases are Texas v. Becerra, N.D. Tex., No. 5:21-cv-00300, 12/31/21 and Louisiana v. Becerra, W.D. La., No. 3:21-cv-04370, 1/1/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Flood in Washington at bflood@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com