Brian Kemp
Brian Kemp Credit: Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Gov. Brian Kemp, Attorney General Chris Carr, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents, along with leaders from six other states have filed a lawsuit against the administration of President Joe Biden over the president’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors.

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“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. “Polling shows 70 percent of unvaccinated Americans say they would quit their jobs if their company required the COVID-19 vaccine. From an employer’s perspective, 9 in 10 fear significant reductions in their workforce if they had to implement vaccine mandates. We will not allow the Biden Administration to circumvent the law or force hardworking Georgians to choose between their livelihood or this vaccine.”

In the complaint, filed late Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia based in Augusta, the officials say Biden’s requirement leaves them with an impossible choice – comply and risk having to terminate large numbers of workers, or refuse and lose out on billions of dollars in federal contracts.

“Executive Order 14042 is astonishing— not only for its tremendous breadth and unworkably short deadline, but also because so little care has been given to how it will work in the real world,” the complaint reads. “The mandate, as the federal government has conceived, and thus far implemented, applies not only to contractor employees working on federal contracts, but also any employee that may have contact with someone working on a federal contract (even if that contact is nothing more than walking past them outside, in a parking lot). There are no exceptions for employees that work alone, outside, or even exclusively remotely. And the federal government is insisting that every federal contractor fully comply by December 8, 2021, which means employees have mere days to begin their two-shot regimen.”

The states charge that the White House acted beyond its authority, violating the Constitution and multiple federal laws, and they ask the court to halt enforcement of the mandate.

Biden signed the executive order instituting the mandate Sept. 9. Under it, contractors and those who work “in connection with” them will have until Dec. 8 to be fully vaccinated. The administration has already instituted a mandate for federal employees, who have until Nov. 22 to be fully vaccinated.

The White House says requiring the shots will decrease the spread of COVID-19 and improve the efficiency of contractors by reducing absenteeism. There were 5 million government contract employees in 2020, according to the Brookings Institute. They work in fields ranging from manufacturing to health care to university research.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recently upheld employer policies requiring the COVID-19 vaccine, most recently when it declined to block a Maine requirement for health care workers to get the shot even though it doesn’t contain a religious exemption.

Georgia’s universities have been a hotbed of debate over masks and vaccines since before the fall semester began.

Kemp has argued that a state vaccine mandate would be divisive and cause people to quit their jobs. The University System of Georgia has agreed, encouraging students and staff to wear masks and get vaccinated, but not allowing professors to require it of their students.

That changed Wednesday when the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech both announced they would comply with Biden’s order. Both schools receive tens of millions of dollars in federal contracts each year.

But Kemp’s complaint questions the feasibility of vaccinating everyone who comes into contact with one of the contractors working at the university. According to the complaint, Tech and UGA could lose more than a combined $700 million if they are unable to comply with the order.

Democrats were quick to criticize the lawsuit as a dangerous stunt.

“The vast majority of Americans support President Biden’s actions to protect our communities’ health against the spread of coronavirus, and Georgia’s recent rise in vaccinations prove that it is working,” said Rhyan Lake, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Georgia. “Kemp and Georgia Republicans should end their pro-COVID antics, heed the call of Georgians, and join Democrats in fighting to end this pandemic.”

Joining Georgia in the suit are Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia.

A coalition of ten other states – Missouri, Nebraska, Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming – filed their own separate lawsuit Friday, following Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who sued over the requirement Thursday.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business...