Utah joined four other states Friday in asking a federal appeals court in Louisiana to review President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 new vaccination rules for large businesses.
The petition filed in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans comes a day after the Occupational Safety and Hazards Administration issued a rule requiring employers with 100 or more employees to ensure each of their workers is fully vaccinated or tests negative for the coronavirus at least once a week. Workers who aren’t vaccinated would also be required to wear masks on the job.
The deadline for compliance is Jan. 4. Companies that don’t comply could be fined nearly $14,000 per violation.
The rule was published in the Federal Register on Friday.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, a Republican, said the state is challenging the president’s mandate in order to protect Utahns from an “egregious and unprecedented” exercise of federal power.
“As I’ve stated before, President Biden can pretend to be an emperor, but America is a free republic, not a dictatorial state,” he said in a statement. “These mandates will backfire. They will cost the president and his party in coming elections. And they will not stand up in court.”
Vaccines might be a powerful counter to the coronavirus pandemic, especially for those without natural immunity, Reyes said.
“But the choice to get vaccinated is a deeply personal one that should be made free of government threats and cudgels,” he said. “Forcing that decision upon the American people is not only counterproductive but also blatantly illegal. And the president knows it.”
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the lawsuit, said the mandate is “bad policy and bad law” and he’s asking the court to strike it down.
“The Biden administration’s new vaccine mandate on private businesses is a breathtaking abuse of federal power,” he said in a statement. “OSHA has only limited power and specific responsibilities. This latest move goes way outside those bounds.”
Paxton intends to follow up the petition with a motion to stay the rule, which he said will include the reasons he believes it is unconstitutional.
In addition to Texas and Utah, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina, as well as several businesses in some of those states, are challenging the mandate. The U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA, Labor Secretary Martin Walsh and assistant secretary of Labor Doug Parker are named in the petition.
Reyes said Biden first tried to “oppress” federal contractors with a vaccine mandate and now is trying to “bully” private businesses, their employees and government health care workers into compliance.
Eighteen states, including Utah, filed three separate lawsuits last month to stop the president’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors, arguing that the requirement violates federal law. The states asked a federal judge to block the requirement that all employees of federal contractors be vaccinated against the coronavirus by Dec. 8.
Reyes was among 24 Republican attorneys general who threatened to sue the Biden administration once the vaccination rule for large businesses became official. The president announced in September a plan to get more Americans vaccinated and turn back the pandemic.
The attorneys general called the plan “disastrous and counterproductive” in a letter to Biden shortly after the announcement.
“And at least some Americans will simply leave the job market instead of complying. This will further strain an already-too-tight labor market, burdening companies and (therefore) threatening the jobs of even those who have received vaccines,” according to the letter.
Following release of the letter, Reyes said he believes his stance reflects the will of most Utahns.
“Both employers and employees in Utah, with unprecedented fervor, have flooded my office with messages of dire concern and extreme opposition to the proposed mandate,” Reyes said in a statement last week. “I firmly agree.”