Legal: When does something become a "moot point"? Asking about Biden COVID mandates in court

President Biden has issued some executive orders regarding vaccines related to COVID.

As expected, there are some who are challenging these orders.

My question is, will a court case challenging these orders continue even if they become moot over the course of the legal process?

For example, Biden says everyone needs to be vaccinated but the disease disappears after two years and the court cases are still in progress. (I made that up for discussion purposes)

Will the court cases continue in order to resolve the question if a president can issue such orders in the future or will it just stop because the problem no longer exists?

Remember this is GQ.

(Mods: If you think this is too fraught to be in GQ feel free to move it.)

NAL, but, yes, if the mandate is removed during the case, a case may become legally moot. There’s generally no way for a court to rule on a principle in absence of a specific policy or harmed individual. If the mandate isn’t in effect any more, then the mandate isn’t harming anyone.

Here’s an example of a gun rights case that was dismissed as moot after the regulation that was challenged was rescinded.

However, depending on the plaintiff, the removal of the regulation might not make a case moot. If someone is fired for refusing to take a vaccine, then they have been harmed in a way that is not undone by the removal of a mandate. I believe that person could plausibly continue their case, as they still potentially have a right to be made whole even if future people are not subject to being fired. As always, the specific details of a case may make a big difference in legal outcome.

There are exceptions to the idea of a case becoming moot and one of the exceptions is when the defendant voluntarily stops whatever process is in dispute. Another is if the situation is one that occurs over and over , but the time period where the issue is not moot is short so that any court case would always become moot (such as challenges to election laws)

Agreed. The “capable of repetition yet evading review” doctrine. Roe v. Wade was decided on those grounds because a pregnancy would be so short term as to qualify.

Surprisingly, the ruling that struck down the law requiring people to be 21 to buy handguns was dismissed as moot, and I didn’t see anyone arguing otherwise:

This being GQ, no comment on the merits, but it would seem as if anyone who wanted to challenge the law on his or her 18th birthday would always see that case mooted as three years would almost always pass until appellate remedies were exhausted.

I assume it depended too on what remedy the plaintiffs asked for?

If the complaint was “let me buy a gun” then it becomes moot. If the complaint is “no woman can get an abortion” or “let anyone under 21 buy a gun” then does it become moot?

IAAL, and my understanding of “moot” is that no matter what the court decides, it will make no difference to the litigants. Because what one side is trying to do, and the other side does not want the first side to do, has already been decided. The court can continue, and issue a decision, but since the decision has already been made by at least one party, the matter becomes moot.

I remember reading a case in law school that dealt with a woman who was pregnant. She wanted an abortion, but her boyfriend (they were not married) did not want her to have one. He made an application to the court for an injunction to stop her from getting an abortion. But court matters don’t often go as quickly as one might like, and the woman got an abortion before the matter was litigated before a judge. The court went ahead anyway, declaring the matter moot, but ultimately deciding in favour of the woman’s decision. Note that this occurred in Canada, which has no abortion laws.

I don’t know if this applies to the OP’s question, but it may shed some light on what a “moot point” is, legally speaking.

Granted a decision may not matter to the individuals in case that started it but is there no value to a decision for the purposes of precedent and as guidance for people in the future should it come up again?

The plaintiff can only ask the court to remedy his or her personal harm. He can’t ask to help third parties.

As a practical matter, a win by a particular plaintiff helps third parties derivatively as they can cite the previous case as binding precedent, but this potential plaintiff cannot claim that he is speaking for everyone ages 18 to 20.

And if the plaintiff is speaking for a group of people (such as being the named plaintiff in a class action ) the suit will survive even if the issue has become moot with respect to the named plaintiff.

Even if the disease disappears, if the mandate remains, the case will not become moot. Only if Biden rescinds the mandate will the lawsuit become moot.