Federal judge in Spokane denies motion to halt Washington vaccine mandate

SPOKANE, Wash – A federal judge in Spokane has denied a motion to halt Washington’s vaccine mandate for state workers and emergency responders.

A group of state workers is suing Governor Jay Inslee, Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer, Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste and others. The workers say their civil rights are being violated. The group includes Spokane firefighters, state troopers and other state employees.

The plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary restraining order. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice denied the motion Monday.

In his ruling, Rice wrote that “The Supreme Court has long endorsed state and local government authority to impose compulsory vaccines… Federal courts have routinely analyzed such cases using rational basis and regularly reject cases similar to this one that challenge vaccine mandates based on free exercise of religion.”

“Moreover, the State has a legitimate government interest in preventing the spread of COVID-19, as endorsed by the Ninth Circuit,” Rice wrote. He cited a case brought by a Chelan waterslide park, in which the state prevailed when requiring certain restrictions due to COVID-19.

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Rice says the plaintiffs also cited modifications to their contracts as a reason for the court to step in. But, Rice writes, “Plaintiffs have not provided copies of the collective bargaining agreements at issue or stated the material provisions that have allegedly been modified.”

Rice also points out that the governor’s proclamation requiring vaccines “is well-supported by extensive medical evidence, recommendations by professional organizations, and aligns with other measures already in place in other governmental settings.”

The judge points out that in order for him to place this pause on the governor’s mandate, a plaintiff must show that irreparable harm is likely if he doesn’t.

“It is well settled that loss of employment does not constitute irreparable harm,” he writes, citing federal precedent.

He also writes that the plaintiffs filed their complaint on October 6, almost two months after the vaccination requirement was announced. That, he says, shows a lack of urgency and lack of true concern about irreparable harm.

“The court finds the Plaintiffs have not carried their burden to demonstrate irreparable harm absent a restraining order,” Rice says.

Finally, Rice addresses the concern the plaintffs raise about public safety, as these troopers, firefighters and state workers lost their job over the mandate. Rice contends that “the balance of equities tips in favor of the Defendants and that the public interest would not be served by enjoining the proclamation.”

The ruling serves only to deny a pause in the governor’s mandate; it does not mean the case is over.

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