Opinions

The state is working to block federal overreach on vaccine mandates

As Alaska’s attorney general, it is my responsibility to protect the interests of our state and its people, whether by prosecuting criminals or advocating on behalf of Alaska consumers. Increasingly, though, the Department of Law has been at the forefront of efforts to stop persistent, illegal encroachment by the federal government.

Just in the past two months, that improper federal overreach has reached an unprecedented level with the Biden administration’s attempts to require millions of Americans to either take vaccinations for COVID-19 or risk losing their jobs.

Multiple vaccine mandates have left countless Alaskans to decide between providing for their families or acquiescing to medical treatment they may oppose for a myriad of reasons. This Hobson’s choice is unfair and unconstitutional, and the state is pursuing multiple legal remedies in court.

In the past few weeks, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and I have announced lawsuits against the federal government to stop vaccine mandates targeted at federal contractors, private businesses with more than 100 employees, health care providers, and Head Start programs. These lawsuits are in various stages in different courts, but all will likely ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

I am confident the Supreme Court will determine, as has been precedent since our country’s founding, that it is a function of state government to regulate public health and welfare. Lower court judges who have already made rulings in these cases have echoed what courts have said for years, which is that the U.S. Constitution gives states authority to exercise police power over public health policy or issue vaccine requirements.

Alaskans know best how to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 in Alaska. Moreover, we know how important it is for individuals and families to make personal, medical decisions for themselves.

To be clear, lawsuits against the vaccine mandates do not discount the vaccines themselves or comment on whether they are beneficial. These lawsuits are about preserving the rights of individual Alaskans to make their own health care decisions and preserving state sovereignty.

We have joined leaders from other, like-minded states to make well-reasoned and strong legal arguments on multiple fronts. These multistate coalitions are extremely beneficial to Alaska and its citizens because of the efficiency and effectiveness in uniting with other attorneys general from across the country to stand together for fundamental constitutional principles. With a common voice, this coalition of states has already demonstrated in court these vaccine mandates deserve thorough judicial review.

Because we are active on multiple fronts, it’s sometimes difficult to sort out the status of the challenges and their impact on Alaskans day-to-day. To help with that, we’ve created a website with updated details about the lawsuits. It’s located at http://law.alaska.gov/department/vaccine-mandates.html.

I know Alaskans have questions and concerns about these regulations. They are confusing, complex and sometimes contradictory. I hope the webpage will help clarify matters as we move through the legal process.

Although a case’s status sometimes changes daily, here’s an overview of the cases Alaska is participating in so far, and their current statuses:

CMS vaccine mandate: On Nov. 10, Alaska and nine other states filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri over a mandate that would apply to more than 10 million health care workers. The mandate covers certain health care facilities that offer services covered by Medicare and Medicaid, and those entities risk losing Medicaid and Medicare funding unless they compel their employees to get vaccinated. On Nov. 29, the District Court issued a preliminary injunction to halt the mandate, at least temporarily, in the 10 states participating in the lawsuit. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth refused to stay the District Court’s ruling pending appeal. This means the federal government is barred from enforcing this mandate absent further order from the Court of Appeals.

OSHA vaccine mandate: On Nov. 5, a coalition of 11 states asked the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit for a stay to block the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, or OSHA, Emergency Temporary Standard, aka ETS. The ETS requires employers with more than 100 employees to force their employees to receive COVID-19 vaccines — or alternatively, undergo weekly COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at the workplace — in states subject to federal OSHA guidelines or with a state OSHA plan, like Alaska. Alaska’s lawsuit was consolidated with multiple, similar lawsuits in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. That court recently lifted the injunction that had previously blocked the mandate from going into effect. Alaska and other states have asked the Supreme Court to again block the mandate, and we are currently awaiting Justice Kavanaugh’s decision.

Federal contractor mandate: On Oct. 29, Alaska and nine states sued to prevent enforcement of a vaccine mandate directed at workers employed by federal contractors. Private businesses or government entities such as the University of Alaska that serve as federal contractors would be required to have their employees fully vaccinated for COVID-19 before the business could be awarded a new federal contract or have an existing federal contract renewed. Federal agencies are even seeking modifications to existing contracts and forcing contractors, like the university, to require the vaccines or else lose the contracts. Multiple courts have found that this mandate likely violates the law, and it has been blocked nationwide until the cases are decided.

Head Start mandate: On Dec. 21, nearly two dozen states joined Alaska in a lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana challenging a mandate that would require Head Start workers and volunteers nationwide to be vaccinated. The Head Start mandate also includes a mask requirement for toddlers as young as 2 years old. With this mandate, the Biden administration appears willing to risk a shortage of the teachers and volunteers essential to preparing low-income children for elementary school. A motion for preliminary injunction is pending before the court.

While these lawsuits move forward, the Department of Law will continue to monitor and review other instances of federal overreach. Aided by Gov. Dunleavy’s Administrative Order 325, which directs the use of state resources to fight back against any unconstitutional encroachment of our rights and liberties, the Department of Law will remain diligent in its protection of Alaska’s land, its resources and its people.

Treg Taylor is the attorney general for the state of Alaska.

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