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OSHA suspends implementation of workplace vaccine mandate pending further court action

The Biden administration's vaccine and testing mandate affecting 84 million Americans wasn't scheduled to start until Jan. 4.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced that it will suspend "implementation" and "enforcement" of the Biden administration's vaccine and testing mandates at private workplaces. The agency says it will now wait for future developments before proceeding with a new start date for enforcement.

"While OSHA remains confident in its authority to protect workers in emergencies, OSHA has suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS pending future developments in the litigation," read a statement on the agency's website.

President Joe Biden previously announced that about 84 million Americans who work at companies with 100 or more employees would need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or get tested for the virus weekly. 

That target date is now up in the air as challenges to Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private employers is consolidated in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, a panel dominated by judges appointed by Republicans, the Associated Press reported. 

The Cincinnati-based court was selected Tuesday in a random drawing using ping-pong balls, a process employed when challenges to certain federal agency actions are filed in multiple courts.

Another court where a majority of judges were nominated by Republicans, the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, issued a ruling that put the mandate on hold.

It's not clear whether the court that will hear the case will act as the 5th Circuit did and side quickly with the Republican challengers. But legal experts have become increasingly concerned in recent years about the politicization of both federal and state courts, raising questions about whether justice is fairly administered or dispensed through a partisan lens.

Previously this year, the lottery had been used to assign just two cases. One involved fallout from a National Labor Relations Board ruling on an anti-union Twitter message by Tesla founder Elon Musk where objectors filed in two circuits. The other was over orders from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in which objectors filed in three.

The employer vaccine mandate is higher profile and further reaching. It calls for businesses with more than 100 workers to require employees to be vaccinated by Jan. 4 or wear masks and be tested weekly for COVID-19. Exemptions are provided for religious reasons and for those who work at home or only outdoors.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.