There they go again.

The ultra-conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has extended its order blocking the Biden administration’s rule that companies employing more than 100 workers require coronavirus vaccines or weekly testing — this time with an explanation.

And what an explanation it is. So much for judicial restraint on the part of the appeals court, especially considering that there was no evident urgency in ordering the mandate stayed — it doesn’t take effect until January.

The 5th Circuit isn’t the last word; challenges to the mandate have been filed nationwide, and the cases are set to be combined next week. But the court’s opinion is telling, not just about the fate of the mandate but also about the impact of President Donald Trump’s stocking of the federal appeals courts with conservative judges. The panel was composed of two Trump appointees (Kurt Engelhardt and Kyle Duncan) and a Ronald Reagan nominee (Edith Jones).

There are two issues embedded in the case: Is the order within the scope of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency power? If so, is it constitutional?

My beef with the 5th Circuit isn’t so much about its answer to the first question — that the rule “grossly exceeds OSHA’s statutory authority,” although the adverb seems excessive and the answer nowhere near as clear as the panel asserts.

The law gives OSHA, in emergency situations, power to issue temporary rules without having to go through the usual cumbersome processes, which could take years. This emergency temporary standard authority applies when the agency determines that “employees are exposed to grave danger from exposure to substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful or from new hazards” and that action is necessary to protect them.

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OSHA has used the power sparingly — just nine times before the pandemic, the last in 1983, to deal with asbestos — and its track record in the courts is poor (it lost in four of six challenges). And the Biden administration’s move to use a law designed to protect employees against traditional workplace hazards to help stem the pandemic is certainly unusual, if not aggressive.

Engelhardt, writing for the panel, began by noting that OSHA had determined in May 2020 that emergency action wasn’t necessary, “The mandate,” he complained, "makes no serious attempt to explain why OSHA and the President himself were against vaccine mandates before they were for one.”

Hello, changed circumstances? There was a different administration in place in May 2020, but more to the point, there was a different pandemic. Then, a mere — mere! — 108,000 people nationwide had died from covid; now the death toll exceeds 761,000. There was no delta variant. Heck, there was no vaccine.

But let’s assume the panel got it right on OSHA’s statutory authority. The scarier part — and the part with implications well beyond the vaccine rule — involves its stingy vision of the federal government’s powers under the Constitution and its analysis of what is in the public interest in deciding whether the mandate should be put on hold.

On the constitutional front, there is a larger agenda at work here: to curb, if not dismantle, the power of the regulatory state. So, the opinion questions whether the federal government has the power under its authority to regulate interstate commerce, to implement the vaccination or testing regime.

Likewise, it asserts that “separation of powers” principles mean that Congress would need to have been clearer if it meant to delegate to OSHA “virtually unlimited power to control individual conduct under the guise of a workplace regulation.” These are shots across the bow in an ongoing effort by conservative judges to limit the power of federal regulatory agencies.

As disturbing, if not more, is the way the opinion talks about what’s at stake. In determining whether to grant a stay, courts consider not just who’s likely to win, but also how much harm would be caused either way, and how the public interest would be best served.

The Biden administration argued to the court that preventing the rule from taking effect “would likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day, in addition to large numbers of hospitalizations, other serious health effects, and tremendous economic costs.”

From listening to the 5th Circuit’s insouciant discussion of covid-19 — “a purported ‘emergency’” — you wouldn’t know that. You wouldn’t know that more than 1,000 people are dying every day. You wouldn’t know that, according to OSHA’s calculations, during the first six months alone, and just looking at workers age 18 to 64, the rule would save more than 6,500 lives and prevent more than 250,000 hospitalizations.

You would know this: “From economic uncertainty to workplace strife, the mere specter of the Mandate has contributed to untold economic upheaval in recent months. Of course, the principles at stake when it comes to the Mandate are not reducible to dollars and cents. The public interest is also served by maintaining our constitutional structure and maintaining the liberty of individuals to make intensely personal decisions according to their own convictions — even, or perhaps particularly, when those decisions frustrate government officials.”

Economic upheaval? Maintaining our constitutional structure? How about saving lives? How about factoring that into the balance?