Judge denies request to block vaccine mandates in Charleston County

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 12:00 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2021 at 4:41 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A federal judge denied a request to impose a temporary injunction to stop COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the cities of Charleston and North Charleston, in Charleston County and the St. Johns Fire District.

The ruling, from Judge David Norton, means the vaccine mandates those municipalities put into place can remain in effect.

Norton said in his ruling that it is not the court’s role to determine and impose employer policies that “best strike the balance of competing interests in a pandemic.” He went on to say the plaintiffs in the case did not state a viable legal theory in support of an injunction.

Attorney Tom Fernandez, who represented the plaintiffs in the request for the injunction, released a statement just before noon Thursday:

I obviously disagree with the judge’s decision. All of these plaintiffs have a right -- inherited at birth and protected by the Constitution -- to their own bodily autonomy. The decision for healthcare is a choice that must be left between an individual, their doctor, and their Heavenly Father. It should never be left up to government coercion under threat of fine, citation or even loss of employment.

“The judge’s decision to deny the [temporary restraining order] leaves our 125 plaintiffs and hundreds of other government employees in the position of choosing their job or standing up for their God-given medical freedom,” Attorney Josh Hooser, who also represented the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said in a statement that the city was hopeful the decision would sway some plaintiffs into getting the vaccine and that the city was extending the deadline for vaccination by 14 days to Nov. 19:

“The city of North Charleston appreciates Judge Norton’s thoughtful consideration of the vaccine policy and looks forward to completing implementation in the days ahead. This is essential to provide a safe working environment for city employees and to deliver safe and efficient services to our citizens. The city is hopeful that some plaintiffs, having read Judge Norton’s order, may now wish to comply with the vaccination policy in order to retain employment. The city recognizes that it may not be possible for a plaintiff to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 5, even if they received a first vaccine dose today. Accordingly, the city will grant a 14-day extension, such that no one who becomes fully compliant (either through vaccination or approved waiver) on or before Nov. 19 will be terminated from employment as a result of the policy.”

The City of Charleston released the following statement:

“We thank the court for its swift decision in this case, and will continue with our efforts to protect both our workforce and community.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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