While President Joe Biden has pursued a number of actions that have contributed to his plummeting popularity, federal courts have so far stopped him from moving ahead with several more that could make his political situation even worse.
From immigration to pandemic policies, judges have repeatedly halted Biden’s attempts to use executive authority.
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Liberals have pushed Biden to continue sidestepping Congress with executive orders that ram through elements of his agenda, however. Many have in recent days stepped up pressure on Biden to cancel student debt, for example, despite the dubious legal authority Biden has to do so.
His average approval rating is nearly 12 points underwater, with roughly 53% of voters disapproving of his performance in office, according to the RealClearPolitics average.
Yet without the intervention of federal courts on a number of key issues, Biden could be facing an even grimmer political outlook heading into a midterm election in which Democrats are expected to suffer massive defeats.
FEDERAL VACCINE MANDATE
The Biden administration spent weeks defending an effort to impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on every business with 100 employees or more.
Biden and his aides argued the mandate was necessary to stop the spread of the virus despite pushback from several different industries under individual vaccine mandates, such as those applying at the city level.
The administration’s political case for imposing the mandate was severely weakened by the spike in cases driven by the omicron variant, which began late last year and seemingly peaked around the holidays. As the highly contagious variant caused millions of infections even among the vaccinated and those who followed mitigation guidelines, political support for COVID-19 mandates began to fall.
Although the Biden administration seemed poised to push for its employer vaccine mandate anyway, the Supreme Court ruled in January that the Department of Labor, which was tasked with enforcing the rule, did not have the authority to issue such a sweeping public health order.
The White House expressed disappointment with the ruling but effectively dropped its public push for the mandate, as support for such measures disappeared heading into this year.
DRILLING LEASE MORATORIUM
Shortly after taking office, Biden signed a measure pausing new leases for oil and gas drilling on federal lands. The move fulfilled a campaign promise and delighted environmental activists who wanted to see climate issues take center stage in Biden’s presidency.
But courts soon disagreed that Biden had the authority to issue a drilling moratorium.
The Biden administration has continued to fight the ruling in court, battling to add more restrictions to the leases it does approve as well as pledging to continue the fight to stop approving more.
Sky-rocketing gas prices have changed political calculations around limiting domestic energy production, however.
While the White House has deflected criticism from environmentalists by arguing courts are to blame for forcing the administration to keep issuing new leases, Biden and others have also touted efforts to increase energy production amid criticisms that Democrats have worked to limit it.
'REMAIN IN MEXICO'
In one of his first major initiatives, Biden reversed a Trump-era program known as "Remain in Mexico" that forced undocumented migrants seeking asylum to wait on the Mexican side of the southern border while courts adjudicate their cases.
Formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, the policy was the result of an international agreement between the United States and Mexico.
Federal courts have ruled that Biden can’t unilaterally rescind the agreement, and the administration has since reluctantly begun to restart the program. The Supreme Court heard arguments in the administration's battle to end Remain in Mexico this week.
Critics blame the cancellation of the policy in large part on a historic surge in illegal immigration that began after Biden took office. They say would-be migrants calculated they had a far better chance of making it into the U.S. long term with an asylum claim absent a policy that would have forced them to stay in Mexican camps.
TITLE 42 REPEAL
Biden’s announcement earlier this month that his administration would end a Trump-era public health order that allowed border authorities to expel migrants amid COVID-19 concerns caused headaches among fellow Democrats concerned about a coming migrant surge.
A number of House and Senate Democrats quickly called for the Biden administration to delay or completely abandon its effort to scrap Title 42, as polling continues to show low confidence among voters that Biden has a handle on the border.
The Biden administration initially stood by its effort to end the order, however. Activists on the Left had spent months calling on Biden to end an authority that had been relied upon for expulsions that angered liberals.
But after a legal challenge from Republican states, a federal judge in Louisiana issued an order this week delaying the end of Title 42, and the Biden administration signaled it would comply.
The court order spared Biden, at least for now, from an immigration fight that was already getting ugly.
TRANSPORTATION MASK MANDATE
Despite cratering support for COVID-19 restrictions, the Biden administration had kept in place, and even earlier this month extended, a federal transportation mask mandate, including for trains and airplanes.
A federal judge in Florida this month struck down the mandate as unlawful, arguing in court filings that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not have the authority to keep the sweeping mandate in place.
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The Biden administration pledged to fight the order in court.
However, many celebrated the end of a mandate that was seemingly contradicted by the lack of masking requirements in almost any other facet of life, and the ruling temporarily took an unpopular restriction off the table for an administration that has faced criticism for sending mixed messages about the coronavirus.