NASHVILLE — Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery and six fellow Republican attorneys general launched a federal court challenge Friday to President Joe Biden's day-old COVID-19 mandates for employers.
The federal rules require those with at least 100 workers to ensure their employees are vaccinated or else tested weekly, by Jan. 4, in an effort to stem the virus that has killed more than 750,000 Americans.
Attorneys general from Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Idaho also joined in to petition the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, asking that the new rules be blocked from taking immediate effect.
The states' filing asks the appellate court to act on their request no later than Nov. 12. That was done in case the appellate court refused to act, thus giving the attorneys general the opportunity to seek "immediate relief" before the U.S. Supreme Court.
"As we anticipated, the mandate asserts an unprecedented expansion of emergency regulatory powers by a federal agency," Slatery said in a statement. "Its scope and breadth is only exceeded by its length (about 500 pages). It also fails to consider the many steps already taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by individuals, employers and our state."
The expected move comes a day after the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administraion, under direction from Biden, issued its long-anticipated rule requiring larger employers to require their workforce be vaccinated or else submit to weekly testing for the potentially deadly disease.
Slatery's action drew criticism from Tennessee Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, a Nashville Democrat and attorney.
"Sadly, our attorney general's office now predictably gets involved in every partisan dispute there is," Yarbro said in a text to the Times Free Press. "This is a waste of time and money that's not going to bring us one step closer to putting COVID behind us."
The actions of Slatery and the other attorneys general drew praise from Jim Brown, Tennessee state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, who criticized OSHA's new Emergency Temporary Standards rule as "overreach by the federal government."
"NFIB remains opposed to OSHA's rule that restricts the freedom of small business owners to decide how best to operate their own businesses and imposes unwarranted burdens on small businesses that further threaten the small business recovery," Brown said in an emailed response to questions posed by the Times Free Press.
"We continue to hear from independent businesses in Tennessee who now appear to be caught in the middle of pending and conflicting state law and federal rule. Hopefully, today's lawsuit against the rule will proceed speedily and successfully, so Tennessee businesses can have the critical clarity they need," Brown added.
Biden's rule came down days after the Republican-controlled Tennessee General Assembly last week sought to push back on COVID-19 restrictions with a raft of bills hitting vaccine and mask mandates, as well as other areas.
Even as they did so, they acknowledged many of their efforts to block Tennessee businesses from imposing mandates could be overshadowed by a higher power, the Biden administration, unless or until federal courts weigh in.
Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, the state's largest health insurer, had caught grief from Republican lawmakers over its requirement that some 900 employees who dealt with other workers or customers get vaccinated.
The company fired 19 workers who refused to do so out of the 900. It announced Thursday it would require the remainder of its employees to get vaccinated as well. That came hours after a separate Biden administration rule formally approved Thursday required federal employees and federal contractors to ensure workers either get vaccinated or tested weekly.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee told reporters at the state Capitol on Thursday that he believes the Biden administration's vaccine requirements constitute government overreach.
"I don't think the federal government should mandate businesses to mandate employees at will to make a personal decision about their health," the Republican governor said, calling the government order unconstitutional. "I think it's the wrong government overreach. I think we've seen pushback nationwide."
In the meantime, Lee and his legal team continue to pore over the bills GOP lawmakers passed during last week's special session to push back on COVID-19 related mandates. While Lee isn't saying what he will end up doing, Republicans don't expect he will veto the bills.
On Thursday, Slatery and attorneys general from Ohio and Kentucky filed suit in U.S. District Court in Kentucky to challenge Biden's earlier emergency order requiring federal workers and federal contractors to accede to the vaccine-or-test rule.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.