Utah joins lawsuit over Biden’s vaccine mandate for large companies

Attorney General Sean Reyes argues the mandate is “counterproductive” and against the law.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Bailey Weems prepares doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine during a free COVID-19 clinic at Red Iguana 2 in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021.

Utah is suing the Biden administration over its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for large private companies, arguing in a Friday announcement that the requirement is an “egregious and unprecedented exercise of coercive power” by the White House.

The move comes as no surprise. Attorney General Sean Reyes months ago vowed to take the federal government to court if it issued a proposed coronavirus vaccine mandate for employers with 100 or more workers.

“Vaccines may be a powerful counter to the COVID epidemic,” Reyes said in a prepared statement. “But the choice to get vaccinated is a deeply personal one that should be made free of government threats and cudgels.”

His statement continued: “Forcing that decision upon the American people is not only counterproductive but also blatantly illegal.”

Utah is joining four other states — Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina — in filing the legal challenge against the U.S. Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

President Joe Biden’s administration this week set a deadline of Jan. 4 for large employers to require all workers to be inoculated against COVID-19 or begin weekly testing for the disease.

Utah and six other states last month filed a separate lawsuit against the Biden administration in an effort to block a mandate that federal contractors be vaccinated against COVID-19.

However, legal experts previously have told the Associated Press that the White House appears to be on firm legal ground, both on orders for federal contractors and for private companies.

“My bet is that with respect to that statutory authority, they’re on pretty strong footing given the evidence strongly suggesting … the degree of risk that [unvaccinated individuals] pose, not only to themselves but also unto others,” University of Connecticut law professor Sachin Pandya told the Associated Press.

On the other hand, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox maintains that while a vaccine mandate itself is not inherently unlawful, Biden’s requirements are unconstitutional because they did not involve congressional approval.

The state’s legislative leaders have signaled their interest in trying to block vaccine mandates for private employers — but it’s not clear what, if anything, they’ll be able to do in the special session slated to begin next week.

The mandate could affect nearly two-thirds of Utah’s workforce, according to legislative analysts.

Utah reported more than 2,000 new coronavirus cases two days in a row this week — the first time that had happened since early September. Before that, it had last happened in January.