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May 27, 2022

Federal Appellate Courts Issue Public Health-Related Rulings

In Livingston Educational Service Agency v. Becerra, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit denied a motion for an injunction pending appeal brought by grant recipients against HHS’ interim final rule implementing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for program staff, contractors, and volunteers in the Head Start program. Head Start is a program that provides federal funds for early childhood education for low-income children and gives children’s families resources to support their child’s readiness for public school. The plaintiffs allege that HHS violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and federal constitutional provisions. The panel held that HHS did not violate the APA, because the agency had good cause to expedite promulgating the rule because of the upcoming flu season and rapid spread of the Delta variant. The panel also held HHS likely had statutory authority to promulgate the mandate, because previous Head Start rules required institutions to comply with state vaccine laws and federal law allows HHS to condition the receipt of Medicare and Medicaid funds on conditions that advance the health and safety of service recipients. In United States v. Allen, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the defendant’s conviction and district court denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress and remanded for a new trial and suppression hearing. The panel held that COVID-19 protocols issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. Although the court’s general protocols at the time of the trial allowed persons authorized by a judge or the Clerk of the Court to enter the courthouse, the court adopted additional protocols for the defendant’s pretrial hearings and trial to streaming audio over the internet. Because the court’s additional protocols prevented the public from attending the defendant’s pretrial hearings or trial in person or observing them online, the panel held that the court violated the defendant’s right to a public trial. 

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