RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares (R) wants to stop President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers from taking effect but whether he’ll be able to do that is still unclear.
Miyares will be watching closely on Friday, Jan 7. when the Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments that will ultimately decide the fate of two sweeping federal mandates. One would generally require companies with 100 or more employees to require vaccines or weekly testing. Another would require vaccines for certain healthcare workers.
The hearings come around the time that the Biden Administration had planned to begin enforcing these orders. The long legal battle is also coming to a head as Virginia is on the cusp of transitioning to Republican leadership.
Miyares said, while he wants everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine, an executive branch mandate without Congressional input isn’t the right approach.
“This is a broad overreach of federal authority in Virginia and, like I said, no one should have to choose between their job and the vaccine,” Miyares said.
Republican attorneys general in other states and business groups have been at the forefront of legal challenges seeking to strike down Biden’s rules.
Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) has generally opposed the mandates and Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has supported them.
Alena Yarmosky, Northam’s spokesperson, has previously noted that Virginia is one of 26 states in which K-12 personnel will likely fall under Biden’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule mandating vaccines or testing for large employers.
“I don’t agree with their assessment of the law. I don’t think it’s applicable in that area,” Miyares said.
Miyares acknowledged that the issue may be resolved by the time he takes office on Saturday, Jan. 15, depending on how quickly the Supreme Court makes a decision. Miyares said he plans to sign on to lawsuits seeking to strike down the mandates if the justices extend a temporary pause on enforcement allowing them to deliberate longer.
However, if the Supreme Court upholds Biden’s requirements, Miyares said his hands may be tied.
“I’ll abide by whatever is their final ruling because they are the final arbitrator of what the law is but my guess is there will be a temporary injunction and there will be space for me to get involved,” Miyares said.
As the omicron variant drives a rise in coronavirus cases, the Supreme Court is expected to consider another measure that would require health care workers at hospitals that receive federal money to be vaccinated against the virus.
Some Virginia hospital systems have already taken that step on their own. It was endorsed by the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association last summer.
However, Ballad Health–the only hospital system serving much of Southwest Virginia–recently requested a waiver. In a letter, Ballad CEO Alan Levine cautioned that implementing the mandate would worsen staff shortages, especially in rural areas that are already struggling to recruit.
“The bottom line is, right now, the vaccine mandates are harming hospitals and health workers right at the time that we need them the most and that is what caused the most alarm for me…Several hundred would be seeking other employment. That’s not what we need right now in Virginia,” Miyares said.
8News Legal Analyst Russ Stone said the Supreme Court could take weeks or months to make a decision on these regulations, though he expects the justices will make a call quickly.
“If I was Jason Miyares, I would hold off and wait to see what the Supreme Court does,” Stone said. “If the Supreme Court has already decided the issue, it would be kind of pointless for the Virginia Attorney General to file something unless he found a new basis to challenge the regulations.”
Attorney General Mark Herring (D) responded to a request for comment after this story aired.
“Virginia and this country are in the midst of the worst COVID surge since the pandemic began almost two years ago. Vaccines and boosters have proven to be incredibly effective in keeping cases mild and preventing hospitalizations or death – and are really the only way that we will ever move past this crisis. Throughout this pandemic, the Biden Administration has worked tirelessly to keep Americans, their families, and their communities safe and healthy. It’s a shame that there are individuals who do not appear to believe that protecting Americans is important, and instead are fighting to overturn this crucial vaccine policy. Vaccines work. Period.”Attorney General Mark Herring