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By Tom Hals
(Reuters) -A judicial panel on Tuesday consolidated 34 lawsuits challenging the Biden administration's workplace COVID-19 vaccine rule in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a venue favored by opponents of the rule.
President Joe Biden announced plans for the vaccine requirement in September, seeking to stem a surge in COVID-19 cases and get more people back to work.
The Cincinnati appeals court was chosen randomly and will take up the challenges to the rule, which compels employers with at least 100 workers to mandate COVID-19 vaccination or weekly testing combined with face masks at work.
The court, which has 10 Republican-appointed judges and five appointed by Democratic presidents, was the venue where Kentucky, a conservative media company and religious groups filed their challenges.
The rule was issued as an emergency temporary standard by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which said it will prevent 250,000 hospitalizations. The rule set a Jan. 4 deadline for compliance.
In court, the administration must show that a "grave danger" required an emergency standard, which allows the agency to bypass a years-long rulemaking process.
OSHA has issued 10 emergency standards in its 50-year history, and of six challenged in court, only one survived intact.
Vaccine mandates are deeply controversial in the United States. Supporters say they are helping to end the nearly two-year coronavirus pandemic, while opponents argue they violate the U.S. Constitution and curb individual liberty.
On Friday, a three-judge panel on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans blocked the rule, calling it a "one-size-fits-all sledgehammer."
The court noted nearly 80% of working-age Americans are vaccinated and many workers such as truckers are at little risk of exposure.
The Biden administration is expected to ask the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to revisit that ruling. Legal experts expect the challenges to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Dan Grebler and Cynthia Osterman)