Court lottery gives Biden administration a chance to revive COVID vaccine mandate

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) - Lawsuits filed around the country challenging the Biden administration's workplace COVID-19 vaccine rule are expected to be consolidated in a single federal appeals court on Tuesday, giving the government a chance to revive a rule that was blocked last week.

More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed challenging the rule, which requires employers with at least 100 workers to mandate COVID-19 vaccination or weekly testing combined with wearing a face covering at work.

The rule was issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which said it will prevent 250,000 hospitalizations caused by COVID-19.

On Friday, a three-judge panel on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans blocked the rule, calling it a "one-size-fits-all sledgehammer that makes hardly any attempt to account for differences in workplaces."

But on Tuesday, a federal judicial panel is expected to select - by lottery - an appeals court to oversee all of the lawsuits that have been brought. There are 13 federal appeals courts and the rule has been challenged in at least 10 of them by business groups, Republican-led states, employers and unions.

Legal experts said the administration will ask the court that winds up being randomly selected to review the 5th Circuit's decision.

The 5th Circuit has a reputation as a one of the country's most conservative, but unions also filed challenges in more liberal venues such as the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, putting those courts in play as well.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Dan Grebler)