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Mayor Bowser's vaccine mandate unlawful, DC Superior Court judge rules

Judge Maurice Ross has issued an order ruling that Muriel Bowser's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which applies to all D.C. employees, is illegal.

WASHINGTON — A D.C. Superior Judge ruled Thursday that Mayor Muriel Bowser's vaccine mandate is unlawful.

According to a press release from the DC Police Union, Judge Maurice Ross has issued an order ruling that Bowser's COVID-19 mandate, which applies to all D.C. employees, is illegal.

In Aug. 2021, the mayor issued an order requiring all District employees to provide proof of vaccination by Sept. 19, 2021. The order also allowed exemptions to the vaccine rule on religious and medical grounds if the employee agreed to be tested weekly for COVID. 

In Dec. 2021, Bowser issued another motion directing city administrators to create a new plan to remove the test-out option, according to court documents.

In early 2022, Bowser requested DC Council extend the emergency legislation requiring the vaccine mandate. DC Council did not extend the measure and failed to pass any legislation extending the code that the mandate was in. 

In January, the D.C. Department of Human Resources informed employees that everyone would be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID, including any booster shots when eligible by Feb. 15. Employees who did not follow the guidelines could be disciplined. 

With the new ruling, Ross ordered that all disciplinary actions started, proposed or taken due to the vaccine mandate "shall immediately cease and be dismissed with full reimbursement to be provided to all FOP members for any loss of benefits, pay, or rights and all related disciplinary proceedings to be expunged from their records." 

In court documents, Ross says Bowser lacked authority to impose the vaccine mandate through emergency executive orders. 

"A vaccine mandate is not an everyday exercise of power," court documents read. "It is instead a significant encroachment into the life—and health—of an employee."

The mayor's office offered the following statement on Friday in response to the court's ruling:

"We are reviewing the Court’s ruling, and believe that the judge misunderstood the strength and diversity of the authorities we relied upon in issuing the employee vaccination mandate. Over the past year and a half, we have seen that COVID-19 vaccines work — they keep people out of the hospital and save lives. We are grateful for all residents and employees who stepped up and got vaccinated, whether they did so with no reservations or whether they did so nervously but because they knew it was the right thing to do. Because of our collective effort, countless lives have been saved. Going forward, we will comply with the Court’s orders as we continue encouraging our community to access life-saving vaccines."

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