A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel accepted a stay request on a prison worker mandatory vaccination case during the weekend, temporarily suspending the vaccination order for prison workers in the state.
The fight over mandatory vaccination orders for all California prison workers has been an ongoing legal battle for the last several months. After first being proposed by state officials in early July, many non-guard employees who worked in health care facilities in prisons soon fell under Governor Gavin Newsom’s state employee mandate he announced later that month. As prison guards had a vaccination rate between 18% and 42% at the time, many feared that imposing a mandate would critically deplete the number of prison guards, thus leaving them out of earlier mandates.
However, in September, Oakland-based U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar ruled that state prison guards were to be added to the mandate due to go into effect on October 15th. Judge Tigar focused on the high rate of spread in prisons for both inmates and prison employees alike, with California state prisons losing 240 inmates and 39 employees to COVID-19 since the pandemic started in March of 2020. With no exemptions beyond the usual medical or religious reasons, and the testing in lieu of vaccination option also being thrown out by the judge, both the Governor and prison guard groups, such as the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, were vehemently against the ruling.
The District Court ruling was immediately appealed, with a Kern County Superior court judge giving the first halt against the mandate in October. Superior Court Judge Bernard Barmann’s ruling came only 48 hours before the prison guard mandate was to go into effect, giving mandate detractors time to organize the Appellate case, with the mandate pushed back to January 12th of next year.
This led to the Appellate decision during the weekend. Enforcement of the ban has now been moved to mid-March, with the case now officially on the docket in the Appellate Court for December 13th.
“The Appellate Court moved this back again because they’re likely foreseeing a major fight over the case,” San Diego lawyer Jill Guthrie, who has been attached to prison cases in the past, told the Globe on Monday. “The case would likely still not be resolved by early January, so the case was bumped up, and the deadline moved back to give people time to get vaccinated in case the Appellate judge sides with Judge Tigar.”
“That being said, those against the mandate should feel a little more positive after this. The court didn’t have to do that, so it may be a faint hint that that’s where they might be leaning. Usually these temporary stays are there for a logistical reason though, in this case because they needed more time to get a ruling in before the mandate order began. It also gives both sides more time to get more accurate figures, such as current percentages of prison guard vaccinations and the total number of deaths in prisons due to COVID since the pandemic began. Facts like that could be crucial.”
Opening briefs in the mandate case are expected to begin next month.
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