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Hours after the White House issues its new vaccine mandate, GOP-led states sue

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and attorneys general for Ohio and Tennessee filed a lawsuit claiming the new federal vaccine mandate is government overreach. He's pictured in 2020.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and attorneys general for Ohio and Tennessee filed a lawsuit claiming the new federal vaccine mandate is government overreach. He's pictured in 2020.

The chief law enforcement officials for Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio are challenging the Biden administration's mandate requiring that federal contractors get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Republican attorneys general in these three states said they filed their lawsuit against the federal government Thursday — just hours after the White House rolled out new rules covering more than 100 million workers in the U.S.

This lawsuit asks a judge to stop the implementation of the mandate, which gives certain contractors until Jan. 4 to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. If those workers choose not to get vaccinated, they must test negative for COVID-19 at least once a week. The lawsuit claims the mandate is an example of federal overreach and both "unlawful and unconstitutional."

This lawsuit is just part of what is already panning out to be a mountain of legal challenges against this vaccine mandate. In September, when the White House first announced its plans, critics — largely the Republican Party — promised to sue.

And they are keeping their word. Late Thursday, officials from dozens of states announced plans to file major lawsuits by Friday, when the administration's rule is officially published in the Federal Register.

Several Republican-led states are working together in these legal challenges. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is a Democrat, but the lawsuit the state is pursuing is being led by Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who is Republican.

A lawsuit that Georgia officials say they plan to file also includes South Carolina, West Virginia, Utah, Idaho, Alabama and Kansas. A suit that Missouri officials plan to file on Friday reportedly includes Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Indiana will challenge the rules in three separate lawsuits in the coming week, according to the state's attorney general.

Texas also sued individually last Friday. "The Biden Administration has repeatedly expressed its disdain for Americans who choose not to get a vaccine, and it has committed repeated and abusive federal overreach to force upon Americans something they do not want," Attorney General Paxton said.

States say the mandate could mean big revenue loss

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told All Things Considered on Thursday that the administration is well-prepared for the onslaught of lawsuits.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told NPR that the Biden administration is prepared to fight the lawsuits against the federal vaccine mandate.
J. David Ake / AP
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told NPR that the Biden administration is prepared to fight the lawsuits against the federal vaccine mandate.

"We're confident about the rule put together, and I think it's unfortunate that this rule has been out for about eight hours now and people already are suing on it," he said. "This is about protecting workers in the workplace. This is about protecting Americans. This is about increasing our number of people in this country that are vaccinated."

Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio — like many states — have contracts with the federal government in different capacities. For example, local jails in Kentucky have contracts with the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Marshals Service to hold and transport prisoners in custody for federal crimes.

In Ohio, state universities have contracts with multiple federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, according to the lawsuit.

By requiring employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the federal government is threatening their lucrative federal contracts amounting to a possible loss of millions of dollars, that lawsuit claims.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said one of the top concerns is the potential loss of workers who quit rather than get vaccinated.

"A natural and predictable consequence of the mandate is that employers who are critical to the supply chain, and are also federal contractors, will likely lose significant numbers of employees," the lawsuit claims. "It is entirely predictable, therefore, that the mandate will exacerbate current supply chain issues."

State leaders said private employees with more than 100 workers, which one of the new federal rules cover, also stand to be financially hurt.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said Thursday, "I've been in discussions with businesses in Missouri who say that this vaccine mandate will crush their business."

The lawsuits also claim federal overreach

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, pictured in 2020, says one of the top concerns is the potential loss of workers who quit rather than get vaccinated.
Julie Carr Smyth / AP
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, pictured in 2020, says one of the top concerns is the potential loss of workers who quit rather than get vaccinated.

Also at the core of these legal challenges is the argument that the federal government is overreaching its authority on states' rights. The argument in the Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio case says that Congress did not give the president authority to issue such a broad mandate.

Labor Secretary Walsh said this rule overrides state and local laws banning or limiting employers' ability to mandate vaccines or testing. He told All Things Considered, in part, "It's no different than a law in Texas that would supersede a local law."

State officials such as Ohio's Yost said Thursday that the rules violate the Constitution.

"I've said it many times: The Biden administration may not do whatever it wants however it wants," Yost said. "The Constitution lays out critical rules by which the executive branch must operate. Congress and the states have their own powers, which the administration can't just take over because it wants to."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.