Judge launches lawsuit challenging FBI’s covid testing policy

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A federal judge in Virginia on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit from a group of employees of the FBI and other national security and defense agencies who argued it was “illegal and unconstitutional” to demand that the unvaccinated staff are tested weekly for coronavirus.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema agreed with Justice Department attorneys that the federal employees who sued should instead pursuing administrative grievances, through a process established by the Civil Service Reform Act.

CIA employees and contractors, in particular, voiced concerns about a “speculative situation,” the judge added, as the CIA never implemented a covid testing policy it had in the works.

Challenges to the Biden administration’s federal vaccination mandates have arisen in courts across the country. Other federal courts have issued nationwide injunctions or state-covering injunctions, and the administration’s vaccine rules have been largely stayed while litigation continues.

Experts said Brinkema’s decision was significant because it covered coronavirus testing requirements, not vaccination mandates, for employees of the nation’s major law enforcement and national security agencies.

“Which agencies are more important than the FBI and the CIA? said Peter Meyers, professor emeritus of law at George Washington University Law School and former director of the school’s Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic, adding that he was not aware of any injunctions covering testing warrants, although that several courts have considered vaccination warrants.

Brinkema dismissed the lawsuit on procedural grounds, but also made comments from the bench on the merits of the case.

“This is an effort by the agencies involved to keep the workforce safe,” Brinkema said.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cannot impose a nationwide vaccination mandate covering all businesses with 100 or more employees. But the High Court also ruled that vaccination mandates could be imposed on hospitals and health facilities receiving Medicaid or Medicare funds.

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Against this “puzzling” backdrop, Meyers said, Brinkema’s decision was “extremely significant.”

“Even if it’s not on the merits, it’s a pretty significant decision because it’s about very important agencies and individuals within those agencies who are challenging these vaccine and testing mandates, and the court says you can’t challenge those policies here,” Meyers said.

Employees of the FBI, CIA, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense Education Activity – an agency that runs schools for military children – sued in April, along with some CIA contractors . They were allowed to use the pseudonyms “John Doe” and “Jane Doe” in court documents.

Lawyers for the 25 plaintiffs argued that “those who remain unvaccinated have been vilified” by the Biden administration since federal vaccination mandates began to take effect in 2021, and scientific data has shown that “the unvaccinated are not the source of the spread of COVID-19”.

Brinkema said the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized the coronavirus pandemic as a “serious health threat.” The judge spoke of an “economic fall” and more than a million deaths to date in the United States.

She added that the vaccine “certainly reduces the risk of infection”, that getting tested once a week was a “de minimis intrusion” and that none of the people suing “has been the subject of an employment action”.

Carol A. Thompson, plaintiffs’ attorney, said after the hearing that the employees would seek to appeal Brinkema’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

Justice Department spokespersons declined to comment.

“The COVID-19 pandemic represents the most serious public health crisis in at least a century,” Justice Department lawyers said in a court filing last month, defending federal law enforcement policies. and national security agencies covid mitigation. “More than 4.7 million Americans have been hospitalized, more than one million have died, and tens of thousands of new infections are reported every day in the United States.”

Lawyers for the Justice Department added that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regularly testing unvaccinated people is a “key part of a tiered approach to preventing transmission” of covid-19.

In dismissing a similar lawsuit, a panel of 4th Circuit judges ruled in April that Department of Defense and Food and Drug Administration employees challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate must file grievances about the workplace under the Civil Service Reform Act.

Brinkema said it was “very clear” the decision also applied to the case she dismissed on Thursday.

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