A Mandate by Any Other Name Is Just as Bad

November 8, 2021

"Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful," wrote George Orwell, "and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

Sadly, Orwell's comment is much too often true. And were he alive today, you have to wonder what he would say about President Biden's efforts to require up to 100 million American workers to get a COVID vaccine. That's because Biden is calling his vaccine proposal a "requirement." Why? Well, "mandate" has such an oppressive sound. "Requirement" sounds more like a homework assignment than a demand that, under penalty of losing your job, you must have a very specific kind of medical treatment.

Thankfully, the federal courts are not being swayed by an artful language dodge. On Saturday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, after reviewing legal challenges to the mandate by Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Utah, said that the state petitions "give cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the mandate." So, said the Court, the mandate cannot go forward.

In total, 26 states filed suit against the Biden mandate. The reason has less to do with the wisdom of getting vaccinated against COVID than the reality that there is no constitutional authority for the executive branch of the federal government to essentially eliminate the ability of states to have any say in the governance of their citizens.

Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) put it simply: The Biden mandate is "unconstitutional slop." Sasse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, explained, "We're not going to beat this awful virus with extreme partisanship or unconstitutional executive orders."

The senator's argument about the Constitution is vital. That wonderful document makes clear that the federal government has limited powers. That's why the Constitution has an amendment, the Tenth, that says whatever isn't delegated to Uncle Sam specifically belongs to the authority of the states and their citizens. It also includes a provision for its own amendment – its meaning is clear, so if we want to alter it, we can do so. But what we can't do is force a written text into political elastic, twisting it into meanings it doesn't contain.

So, what was Biden's pretext for issuing a mandate that is obviously unconstitutional? The "emergency" created by COVID.

Emergency? Late last month, NBC News reported that "new cases have fallen 57 percent since early September." Dr. Shaun Truelove of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, "attributes the drop in cases to a combination of immunity from vaccination and people who have already had a COVID infection." According to Truelove, "We think that's happening because of the amount of immunity that's built up in the population." In a word, there's no reason for panic. There is, contrary to the president's claim, no emergency.

On Friday last week, FRC's Joseph Backholm hosted legal scholar Roger Severino of the Ethics and Public Policy Center on "Washington Watch." Severino noted that the president simply ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue the mandate. The order to issue the mandate, said Severino, was "arbitrary and capricious and contrary," an effort to "run around the regulatory process." What's worse, he observed, the Biden administration is "not going to listen to the American people (but) they may listen to a federal judge."

There is another underlying danger to what Biden is trying to do with his vaccination mandate. It's this: If any president can order the American people to do anything, we no longer need a Congress, a judiciary, or even laws. This kind of dictatorial behavior, even if intended well, imposes a grave danger to the liberty of the American people to live not as subjects but as citizens. Free men and women who can decide for themselves how they want to live – including what medications, vaccines, and treatments they receive.

As George Orwell argued, when government starts using language as a political tool, people need to beware. Good intentions are no excuse for damaging and dangerous policy.