COVID-19 vaccines

Eleven states sue US government over vaccine mandate for federal contractors

Reuters
Eleven states sue US government over vaccine mandate for federal contractors

FILE PHOTO: Vials labeled "AstraZeneca, Pfizer - Biontech, Johnson&Johnson, Sputnik V coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine" are seen in this illustration picture taken May 2, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration//File Photo

(1st UPDATE) The joint lawsuit of 11 states with Republican governors describe the mandate as 'sweeping in its scope' and 'unconstitutional and unlawful'

 Eleven US states with Republican governors sued the Biden administration on Friday, October 30, seeking to block a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors, arguing it is unconstitutional and violates federal procurement law.

Saying they were necessary to fight COVID-19, President Joe Biden issued a pair of executive orders on September 9 requiring all executive branch federal employees and federal contractors be vaccinated.

A joint lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District Of Missouri by 10 states, Arkansas, Alaska, Missouri, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Texas filed a separate suit on the same issue, and Florida filed one on Thursday, October 28. The lawsuits on Friday described the mandate as “sweeping in its scope” and “unconstitutional and unlawful,” citing a constitutional amendment on state powers and federal laws on government procurement.

The mandate “is an abuse of power and we won’t stand for it,” Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said in a video on Twitter.

“It will only worsen the workforce shortage and supply chain issues that hinder our economic recovery and it furthers the unprecedented government intrusion into our lives,” Reynolds said.

The White House set a December 8 deadline for employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated. However, it has signaled contractors have flexibility in enforcing that deadline.

US courts have largely upheld vaccination requirements imposed by employers, universities, states and cities.

About 58% of the US population is fully vaccinated and over 66% have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Supreme Court rejects religious challenge to Maine vaccine mandate

The US Supreme Court on Friday turned away healthcare workers seeking a religious exemption to Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the latest battle over vaccination to reach the justices.

The court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, rejected a request made by nine unnamed plaintiffs who identified themselves as healthcare workers who object to receiving the shots on religious grounds. The court previously rejected challenges to vaccine mandates in New York and Indiana, though those cases did not involve religious objections.

The justices were divided, with three conservative members saying they would have granted the request.

In Maine, “healthcare workers who have served on the front line of a pandemic for the last 18 months are now being fired and their practices shuttered,” conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a dissenting opinion. He was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito.

Maine Governor Janet Mills’ administration had required that all healthcare workers in the state be fully vaccinated by the beginning of October, but the state said it would not enforce it until Friday.

The governor said such workers perform a critical role in protecting the health of Maine’s residents and that every precaution needed to be taken to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, especially in light of the presence of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

Maine removed religious exemptions from mandated vaccines in 2019 – before the pandemic – because of falling vaccination rates. Voters in the state overwhelmingly rejected a referendum challenging the law last year.

The state has required hospitals and other healthcare facilities to ensure that workers are vaccinated against various diseases since 1989.

The challengers argued that the lack of a religious exemption violated their right to free exercise of religion under the US Constitution’s First Amendment.

A federal judge had earlier rejected the bid for an exemption.

The conservative-majority Supreme Court, which has been receptive to claims involving religious rights, rejected two previous challenges to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor in October refused to block New York City’s requirement that public school teachers and employees be vaccinated. Justice Amy Coney Barrett in August denied a bid by Indiana University students to block that school’s vaccination mandate.

Also on Friday, a federal appeals court in New York ruled that the state could move ahead with its healthcare vaccine mandate, which like Maine’s did not allow religious exemptions. A lower court judge had ruled the state had to allow such exemptions. – Rappler.com