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Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt will sue over federal vaccine mandate for employers

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaking in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. in September 2019.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Associated Press
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaking in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., in September 2019.

“Missouri will not roll over, we will not back down — we will file suit imminently,” Schmitt said.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt plans to file another lawsuit against the federal government this week, this time to block a forthcoming federal rule covering COVID-19 vaccines for private employers.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an emergency temporary standard requiring companies with 100 employees or more to adopt a policy that employees are fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 or undergo weekly testing. Employers are also required to give workers paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from its side effects, while also requiring unvaccinated workers to wear masks.

“As part of OSHA's mission to protect the safety and health of workers, this rule will provide a roadmap to help businesses keep their workers safe,” Jim Frederick, deputy assistant Secretary of Labor for occupational safety and health, said in a statement Thursday.

The OSHA emergency standard is expected to apply to 84 million workers. COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 750,000 people in the United States and five million people worldwide.

Schmitt will argue that the federal government lacks the authority to require private businesses to make employees get vaccinations. Schmitt said the lawsuit will be filed on Friday to coincide with the OSHA standard’s official publication in the Federal Register.

“Missouri will not roll over, we will not back down — we will file suit imminently,” Schmitt said.

The White House responded Thursday that it was confident it had the authority to protect workers. White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a press briefing that businesses have been disrupted by employees getting sick and administration policies help boost vaccination rates and save lives.

“The question we always have and ask to the Republicans is why are they getting in the way?” Jean-Pierre said. “Why are they getting in the way of trying to protect and save lives? That’s all we’re trying to do.”

Friday’s lawsuit would be the latest in a string of lawsuits and other maneuvers that Schmitt has filed against the federal government. Schmitt, who is in the middle of his first term as attorney general, is running in a crowded primary for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate to replace the retiring Roy Blunt. Other candidates include former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, U.S. Representatives Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, and St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey.

Last week, Schmitt announced he and Republican attorneys general from nine other states, were suing the Biden Administration over an executive order that required federal contractors to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

The same week, Schmitt announced Missouri would join a lawsuit against the Biden administration that would seek to reinstate a federal rule imposed during the Trump administration regarding abortions. The Biden administration had peeled back a 2019 rule that banned federally funded family planning clinics from referring patients for abortions. It also required family planning clinics receiving federal funds to remain financially and physically separate from abortion providers.

The week before that, Schmitt and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced they would sue the Biden administration to compel it to resume funding for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The wall was a priority of President Trump and one the former president initially said Mexico would pay to construct. The wall is aimed at keeping people from crossing into the United States from Mexico without legal permission.

Earlier in October, Schmitt signed a letter, along with attorneys general from 16 other states, protesting an Oct. 4 memorandum from U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland that sought to address an increase in hostility and threats toward school officials. As schools reopened this year, often with requirements that students and staff wear masks and other measures aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19, reports have emerged describing intimidation and harassment directed at school board members and other education staff.

Schmitt and others said there's no evidence of an increase in threats toward school officials and described the memorandum as an effort to chill free speech.

Also in October, Schmitt protested a proposal by the U.S. Treasury to have banks report annual amounts of money coming into and out of accounts with balances of $600 or more to the Internal Revenue Service in an effort to combat tax dodging.

In addition to litigation and protestations against the federal government, Schmitt has sued several Missouri cities, counties and school districts over mask orders aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. The Midwest Newsroom reported earlier this month that while the litigation has cost Schmitt’s office very little as it uses attorney general staff to pursue the lawsuits, some of the defendants have received bills for thousands of dollars in legal fees from law firms hired to defend such cases.

The Midwest Newsroom an investigative journalism partnership including KCURIPRNebraska Public Media NewsSt. Louis Public Radio and NPR.

Updated: November 4, 2021 at 4:08 PM CDT
This story has been updated to add White House comments about the proposed rule.
Steve Vockrodt is the former investigative editor for the Midwest Newsroom.
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