On Friday, more than two dozen Republican-led states filed lawsuits challenging President Joe Biden’s demand for vaccines for private companies, setting up a serious litigation in which federal authorities oppose state rights.
The requirement, published Thursday by the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, applies to businesses with more than 100 employees. Their workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by January 4, or must be vaccinated according to mask requirements and weekly tests. In the lawsuits, courts are asking to decide whether the administration’s efforts to contain the pandemic represent a federal takeover of power and whether states are usurping health policy.
At least 26 states have filed lawsuits challenging this rule.
“This mandate is unconstitutional, illegal and unreasonable,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said in a court statement before the 8th US District Court of Appeals in St. Louis on behalf of 11 states.
The Biden administration is promoting widespread vaccinations as the fastest way out of a pandemic. A White House spokeswoman said Thursday that the mandate was aimed at stopping the spread of the disease, which has claimed more than 750,000 lives in the United States.
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The administration is confident that its claim, which includes fines of nearly $ 14,000 for a violation, will withstand litigation, in part because its safety regulations take precedence over state law.
“The administration clearly has the right to protect workers, and the president’s announced actions are designed to save lives and stop the spread of COVID,” Karin Jean-Pierre, a White House spokeswoman, said in a briefing Thursday.
Lawrence Gostin, professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and director of the World Health Organization’s Health Center, said the half-century law that created OSHA gives him the right to establish minimum workplace safety measures.
“I think Biden has a solid legal foundation,” he said.
Critics have targeted several aspects of the requirement, including that it was adopted as an emergency measure, rather than following the agency’s regular rule-making process.
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“This is a real emergency,” said Gostin, who spoke to the Biden administration about the demand. “In fact, this is a national crisis. Any delay will result in the death of thousands of people. ”
The Missouri lawsuit was joined by Republican attorneys general of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. The lawsuit was also joined by the office of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, the only Democratic attorney general to take part in legal challenges to the mandate.
In a statement, Miller said he was filing at the direction of Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican: “By law, I am obligated to prosecute or defend any action in court at the request of the governor.”
Other state coalitions also filed lawsuits on Friday: Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Utah in the 5th US District Court of Appeals in New Orleans; Kansas, Kentucky, Idaho, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia in Cincinnati 6th arrondissement; and Alabama, Florida and Georgia in the 11th arrondissement of Atlanta.
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It is unclear whether different judges will solve problems separately at the beginning or the cases will be combined in one court at the beginning of the trial.
Several businesses, associations and faith groups have also joined the state’s petitions, and some have filed their own lawsuits.
Among them are a conservative media company, two Wisconsin-based manufacturers, companies in Michigan and Ohio, owner of 15 grocery stores in Louisiana and Mississippi, and a group of remote employees in Texas. They are all represented by conservative law firms.
“Over the past 20 months, my employees have come to work and have served their communities in the face of COVID and hurricanes. Is the government now telling me to take part in their personal health decisions? ” The statement said that Brandon Troscler, the owner of grocery stores, employs about 500 people. “This is wrong and I will not tolerate it.”
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The Daily Wire media company objected on several fronts, including the idea that employers would have to keep track of which workers were vaccinated and treat those who got vaccinated differently than those who didn’t.
“The government asks us to discriminate against our employees in relation to their personal healthcare decisions,” said Ryan Boring, co-CEO of the company.
Shannon Royce, president of the Christian Union of Employers, said the group is not challenging the rule due to opposition to vaccines, noting that some members of the group have encouraged employees to vaccinate. Instead, they “oppose being used as a tool” by the federal government.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the operating rules are also changing the way religious organizations deal with their staff.
“I think this is a form of state coercion – the transformation of religious institutions into a form of state coercion that we have to resist,” Moler said.
Until now, the courts have allowed businesses to independently request the vaccination of their employees. But Michael Elkins, a Florida-based employment lawyer, said these decisions do not necessarily mean that judges will make the same decisions when it comes to demands from the federal government.
“You can see a federal judge or a few other people say, ‘This is just overkill,” Elkins said.
Benjamin Noren, a New York-based labor lawyer, said he believed the rule was likely to be lifted because OSHA was meant to deal with workplace hazards such as chemicals rather than viruses. He said OSHA has introduced 10 emergency guidelines over the past five decades. Of the six challenged, only one survived.
“This is a pioneering use by the Biden administration to determine how to introduce mandatory vaccinations in the private sector,” Noren said. “Hope it works. I have doubts”.
Ahead of the OSHA rule, several states have passed laws or issued orders to block or restrict employers’ powers related to the virus.
In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson approved such a bill. become law without his signature… It will take effect early next year and allows employees to waive vaccine requirements if they are tested weekly for the virus or can prove they have antibodies to COVID-19 from a previous infection. Health officials say antibody testing should not be used to assess immunity against the virus, and that people who have had it should still be vaccinated.
Hutchinson, however, noted that his state’s vaccine-waiver law creates a difficult scenario for business if both he and the federal requirement do not allow antibody tests in lieu of vaccinations are in place.
“We’ve put our business in Trap 22,” he said. “You are breaking someone’s law here.”