Georgia is suing Biden over vaccine mandate for federal contractors

August 19, 2021 Atlanta - Gov. Brian Kemp makes remarks on an executive order during a news conference at the Georgia State Capitol building on Thursday, August 19, 2021. Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order Thursday that he said would ÒprotectÓ private businesses by barring local governments from forcing them to enact vaccine requirements, indoor capacity limits and mask rules aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Combined ShapeCaption
August 19, 2021 Atlanta - Gov. Brian Kemp makes remarks on an executive order during a news conference at the Georgia State Capitol building on Thursday, August 19, 2021. Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order Thursday that he said would ÒprotectÓ private businesses by barring local governments from forcing them to enact vaccine requirements, indoor capacity limits and mask rules aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Georgia and other Republican-led states filed a federal lawsuit Friday challenging President Joe Biden’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal contractors, claiming that the White House doesn’t have the legal authority to impose the requirement.

The complaint brought by Gov. Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr deepens a divide over the Biden administration’s strategy to contain the pandemic. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis filed a similar challenge this week, and Georgia’s litigation Friday was brought in tandem with Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia.

“In addition to being an unlawful and unconstitutional overreach, this vaccine mandate on federal contractors will only further divide Americans and hamstring our economy,” Kemp said in a statement Friday, adding that the White House should not “force hardworking Georgians to choose between their livelihood or this vaccine.”

The Democratic Party of Georgia called the litigation a “dangerous political stunt.”

“Kemp and Georgia Republicans should end their pro-COVID antics, heed the call of Georgians and join Democrats in fighting to end this pandemic,” party spokeswoman Rhyan Lake said.

The lawsuit has been long expected. Kemp had warned in September that he would seek litigation to “stop this blatantly unlawful overreach by the Biden administration” shortly after the president announced vaccine requirements that could affect as many as 100 million Americans.

The rules mandate that private employers with more than 100 workers require their staffers be vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19. An additional 17 million workers at health care facilities that receive federal medical funding would have to be vaccinated.

The state’s litigation would target a separate executive order requiring federal executive branch employees and contractors to be vaccinated. That order, set to take effect in December, covers thousands of Georgians who work for public agencies such as the higher education system.

The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Augusta and named Biden and White House officials as defendants. Among the plaintiffs in the complaint is the University System of Georgia, which relies heavily on federal vendors. Many colleges sent notices this week that any of those contractors working for the system must be vaccinated by Dec. 8.

Georgia officials have lined up two well-known lawyers to press the case. Former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton and former U.S. Attorney Charlie Peeler were hired as outside counsel, according to Kemp’s office.

The litigation asserted that Biden’s mandate flouts the rules for changing federal procurement policy, violates spending limitations spelled out in federal law and ignores requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act.

It highlighted several colleges with hundreds of federal grants, including the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, to contend that enforcing the mandate is too burdensome and confusing.

“Just as we believe in protecting the physical health and well-being of our fellow Georgians, we are equally dedicated to protecting them from the unlawful actions of the federal government,” Carr said.

Kemp, who along with Carr faces reelection next year, has joined other Republican leaders in the Deep South in opposing vaccine requirements and mask mandates. Although Kemp has recently taken steps to curb the spread of the disease, such as providing new incentives to state employees who have been vaccinated, he’s warned that more aggressive action would backfire.

The state recently reached a milestone with roughly 50% of Georgia’s residents fully vaccinated against the disease. But that inoculation rate still lags behind much of the nation, and public health experts have called for new efforts to encourage vaccination.