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More than two dozen Republican-led states filed lawsuits Friday challenging President Joe Biden’s vaccine requirement for private companies, setting off a high-stakes legal showdown against states’ rights to federal authority Gaya.

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The requirement, issued Thursday by the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, applies to businesses with more than 100 employees. Their employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by January 4 or face mask requirements and weekly tests. The lawsuits ask courts to decide whether the administration’s effort to curb the pandemic represents a federal power grab and to exercise states’ authority to determine health policy.

At least 26 states filed lawsuits challenging the rule.

“This mandate is unconstitutional, illegal and unwise,” said Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmidt in a court filing on behalf of 11 states at the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

Schmidt said Missouri has 3,443 private employers that could be covered by the vaccine requirement, with about 1.3 million employees. He said he sued to “protect individual liberties, preserve Missouri businesses, and push back bureaucratic tyrants who only seek power and control.”

related: US makes COVID-19 vaccines or tests mandatory for large companies by January 4, 2022

FILE – Hundreds of people gather in City Hall Park to protest the vaccination mandate during the “Freedom Rally” in New York City, United States, November 3, 2021. (Photo by Taifun Koskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Biden administration is encouraging widespread vaccination as the fastest way out of the pandemic. A White House spokesman said on Thursday that the mandate was aimed at halting the spread of a disease that has claimed more than 750,000 lives in the US.

The administration says it’s confident that its requirement, which includes a penalty of about $14,000 per violation, will face legal challenges because its security rules pre-empt state laws.

Carine Jean-Pierre, a White House spokeswoman, said during a briefing on Thursday, “The administration clearly has the authority to protect workers, and the actions announced by the president can help save lives and prevent the spread of COVID-19.” designed to prevent.”

Lawrence Gostin, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and director of the World Health Organization’s Center on Health Law, said the half-century-old law making up OSHA gives it the power to set minimum workplace safety measures.

“I think Biden is on rock-solid legal ground,” he said.

Critics have targeted some aspects of the requirement, including that it was adopted as an emergency measure rather than the agency’s regular rule-making process.

“This is a real emergency,” said Gostin, who has spoken with the Biden administration about the need. “Indeed, this is a national crisis. Any delay will result in thousands of deaths.”

related: Biden admin considering vaccine mandate for businesses with fewer than 100 employees

Republican attorneys general for Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming joined Missouri’s lawsuit. Joining the trial was the office of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, the only Democratic attorney general to participate in the mandate’s legal challenges.

In a statement, Miller said he was filing on the orders of Kim Reynolds of a Republican government: “It is my duty, under the law, to prosecute or defend any action in court when requested by the governor.” for,” he said. Statement.

Other coalitions of states also filed suit Friday: Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Utah at the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans; The Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati includes Kansas, Kentucky, Idaho, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia; and Alabama, Florida and Georgia at the 11th Circuit in Atlanta.

It is unclear whether different judges will rule the challenges separately at first or whether the cases will be consolidated into one court at the start of the process.

Many businesses and unions also joined the states’ petitions, and some filed suit on their own.

Among them are a conservative media company, two Wisconsin manufacturers, companies in Michigan and Ohio, owners of 15 grocery stores in Louisiana and Mississippi, and a group of remote workers in Texas. All are represented by conservative law firms.

“Over the past 20 months, my employees have shown up to work and served their communities in the face of COVID and hurricanes. Now I am being asked by the government to involve myself in my personal health decisions?” Brandon Trosclair, owner of the grocery store chain that employs about 500 workers, said in a statement. “It’s wrong and I won’t stand for it.”

The Daily Wire media company objected on several fronts, including the idea that employers would have to track which workers have been vaccinated and treat those who haven’t the shot differently.

“What the government is asking us to do is discriminate against our own employees in their personal health care decisions,” said company co-CEO Ryan Boring.

So far, courts have allowed businesses on their own to require vaccinations for employees.

But Florida-based employment attorney Michael Elkins said those rulings don’t mean that judges will rule the same way when it comes to requiring the federal government.

“You can see a federal judge, or a group of them, say, ‘This is just redundancy,'” Elkins said.

Benjamin Noreen, a New York labor attorney, said he thought the rule was likely to end because OSHA was intended to deal with workplace hazards such as chemicals, not viruses. He said OSHA has created 10 emergency regulations over the past five decades. Of the six who were challenged, only one survived.

“It’s an innovative use by the Biden administration to figure out some way to mandate vaccination in the private sector,” Noreen said. “I hope it works. I doubt it.”

Ahead of the OSHA rule, several states have passed laws or issued executive orders blocking or limiting employer mandates related to the virus.

In Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson allowed such a bill to become law without his signature. It takes effect early next year and allows employees to opt out of vaccine requirements if they are tested weekly for the virus or can prove they have COVID-19 antibodies from a previous infection. Health officials say the antibody test should not be used to assess immunity against the virus and that people who have had it should still be vaccinated.

However, Hutchinson noted that his state’s opt-out law creates a difficult scenario for businesses if both it and the federal requirement — which does not allow antibody tests in place of vaccinations — are in effect.

“We’ve put our business in a catch-22,” he said. “You’re going to violate anybody’s law here.”

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Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey and DeMillo from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press writer Melinda Deslet in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was also contributing; and Alexandra Jaffe in Washington, DC