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Staff file photo / Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III speaks to attendees at the Pachyderm Club meeting at 2 on the Roof on Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery and fellow Republican attorneys general in Kentucky and Ohio sued the Biden administration Thursday over its Sept. 9 vaccine mandate for federal workers and federal contractors.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky in Frankfort, came in response to President Joe Biden's issuance of executive orders in September requiring all executive branch employees and federal contractors to be vaccinated by Dec. 8 with "minimal exceptions."

The lawsuit is not aimed at the administration's just-released rule on COVID-19 vaccine-or-testing mandates for workers at companies having more than 100 employees, although Slatery is widely expected to file suit later challenging that requirement as well.

Slatery's fellow Republicans in the General Assembly last week passed a series of bills pushing back on COVID-19 vaccine mandates and mask requirements. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has yet to act on the measures. There was also a resolution passed urging Slatery to sue over the new administration rule for employers.

In their 50-page complaint filed over vaccine mandates for executive branch workers and government contractors, Slatery, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost charge the Biden administration's mandatory requirement is "unlawful and unconstitutional."

"Unless we intervene, federal contractors in Tennessee will be forced to make sense of the mandate's many inconsistencies that require their entire workforce be vaccinated or face potential blacklisting and loss of future federal contracts," Slatery said in an accompanying news release. "That is simply unworkable and this lawsuit seeks to stop it."

Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, took issue with Slatery's assertions.

"I would suppose that it's asking too much to take the partisan politics out of saving lives for our citizens and maintaining the upward mobility of our economy in the state of Tennessee," Hakeem said Thursday evening in a telephone interview.

"All businesses where citizens frequent and for employees, it's in their best interest to be vaccinated and where appropriate to wear a mask. When we talk about overreach and things of that nature, in my view that is the position that Attorney General Slatery and others are taking. It's a matter of overreach to override what's in the best interest of our state."

The attorneys general argue in their suit that because federal contractors account for about one-fifth of the nation's workforce, contractors "will likely lose significant numbers of employees. It is entirely predictable, therefore, that the mandate will exacerbate current supply chain issues."

Slatery, Cameron and Yost also said in the filing that because the mandate "claims to preempt all contrary state law," it injures the plaintiff states' interests to "set their own laws regarding workplace issues that would otherwise apply to contractors within the states' borders."

The attorneys general argue the mandate is unconstitutional because Congress didn't give Biden authority to issue such a broad mandate, writing that "the imposed mandates are unconstitutional because Congress did not articulate a clear principle by legislative act that directs the executive to take sweeping action that infringes on state and individual rights."

In response, Hakeem said "in my view [Slatery and GOP colleagues] are putting politics above the health and safety of our citizens and threatening the econoy of our state with actions like this."

Biden's Sept. 9 order on federal employees and federal contract workers does have exemptions for workers who cite medical or religious reasons, according to GovernmentExecutive.com.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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