As the Alaska Attorney General, it is my responsibility to protect the interests of our state and its people, whether through prosecuting criminals or advocating on behalf of Alaskan consumers. However, the Justice Department is increasingly at the forefront of efforts to stop ongoing, illegal interference by the federal government.
It is only in the past two months that this improper federal handover has reached unprecedented levels in attempts by the Biden government to oblige millions of Americans either to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or to risk losing their jobs.
Multiple immunization mandates have left countless Alaska residents deciding whether to care for their families or undergo medical treatment that they can refuse for a variety of reasons. Hobson’s decision is unfair and unconstitutional, and the state is pursuing multiple appeals in court.
In the past few weeks, Governor Mike Dunleavy and I have announced lawsuits against the federal government to stop vaccine mandates targeting federal entrepreneurs, private companies with 100+ employees, healthcare providers, and head-start programs. These lawsuits are at different stages in different courts, but all of them are likely to ultimately be decided by the US Supreme Court.
I am confident that the Supreme Court will determine, as it has done since our country was founded, that it is the job of the state government to regulate public health and welfare. Lower court judges who have already made decisions in these cases have repeated what courts have been saying for years, namely that the US Constitution gives states the power to exercise police power over public health policies or to enact vaccination regulations.
Alaskan residents know best how to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 in Alaska. We also know how important it is for individuals and families to make personal, medical decisions for themselves.
To be clear, lawsuits against the vaccine mandates do not evaluate the vaccines themselves or comment on whether they are beneficial. These lawsuits seek to safeguard the rights of individual Alaskans to make their own health care decisions and to uphold state sovereignty.
We have partnered with leaders from other like-minded nations to bring forward well-founded and strong legal arguments on several fronts. These multi-state coalitions are extremely beneficial to Alaska and its citizens as they efficiently and effectively partner with other attorneys general from across the country to stand together on basic constitutional principles. With one voice, this coalition of states has already proven in court that these vaccine mandates deserve thorough judicial review.
Since we are active on multiple fronts, it is sometimes difficult to see the status of the challenges and how they affect the people of Alaska on a day-to-day basis. To help with this, we have created a website with updated details on the legal proceedings. It is located at http://law.alaska.gov/department/vaccine-mandates.html.
I know Alaskans have questions and concerns about these regulations. They are confusing, complex and sometimes contradicting. I hope the website will help clear things up as we go through the legal process.
Although the status of a case sometimes changes daily, here is an overview of the cases Alaska has been involved in and their current status:
CMS vaccine mandate: On November 10, Alaska and nine other states filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri over a mandate that would cover more than 10 million healthcare workers. The mandate covers certain healthcare facilities that provide Medicare and Medicaid-covered services, and those facilities risk losing Medicaid and Medicare funding unless they force their employees to vaccinate. On November 29, the district court issued an injunction to at least temporarily suspend the mandate in the 10 states involved in the lawsuit. The United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Federal Court refused to suspend the District Court’s judgment on appeal. This means that the federal government cannot enforce this mandate without a further order from the court of appeal.
OSHA vaccine mandate: On November 5, a coalition of 11 states petitioned the U.S. Eighth District Court of Appeals for a stay to block the Labor Protection Agency, or OSHA, Emergency Temporary Standard, also known as ETS. The ETS requires employers with more than 100 employees to force their employees to receive COVID-19 vaccines – or, alternatively, have weekly COVID-19 tests and wear face-covering in the workplace – in states that comply with the OSHA- Subject to federal guidelines, or with a state OSHA plan, such as Alaska. Alaska’s lawsuit was merged with several similar lawsuits in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth District. That court recently overturned the injunction that had previously prevented the mandate from coming into effect. Alaska and other states have asked the Supreme Court to block the mandate again and we are currently awaiting Judge Kavanaugh’s decision.
Federal contractor: On October 29, Alaska and nine states filed a lawsuit to prevent enforcement of a vaccination mandate aimed at workers employed by state contractors. Private companies or government agencies like the University of Alaska, which act as federal contractors, would need to have their employees fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before the company can get a new federal contract or renew an existing federal contract. Federal agencies are even calling for changes to existing contracts, forcing contractors like the university to request the vaccines or lose the contracts. Several courts have found this mandate likely to be against the law and it has been suspended nationwide pending cases.
Head start mandate: On December 21, nearly two dozen states joined Alaska in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana to challenge a mandate mandating statewide vaccination of Head Start employees and volunteers. The Head Start mandate also includes a mask requirement for toddlers from 2 years of age. With this mandate, the von Biden government appears poised to risk a shortage of teachers and volunteers essential to preparing low-income children for elementary school. An application for an injunction is pending before the court.
As these lawsuits progress, the Department of Justice will continue to monitor and review other federal transgression cases. With the support of Administrative Order 325 from Governor Dunleavy, ordering the use of government funds to deter unconstitutional interference with our rights and freedoms, the Department of Justice will continue to be diligent in protecting Alaska’s land, resources, and people.
Treg Taylor is the Attorney General for the state of Alaska.
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