Michigan Legislature asks court to halt President Biden's vaccine-or-test rule

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature is urging a federal court to halt President Joe Biden's policy that requires millions of American workers to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing, according to a brief filed Wednesday.

Michigan GOP lawmakers painted the stakes surrounding the policy as resounding, while supporters have argued it will protect workers against the spread of a deadly virus.

The mandate cannot continue and would be "the death knell of the American dream," contended Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, in a statement.

Hoping to block the new standard, attorneys general in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee have challenged the rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The Michigan House and Senate submitted a brief in support of the other states.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey.

"It is an unjustified expansion of the federal government’s authority to address occupational hazards and, with that expansion, an unprecedented intrusion into the sovereign police power historically reserved to the states," the Michigan Legislature's filing argued.

On Saturday, the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay of the vaccine and testing requirement in a separate case.

The federal government's policy, announced Nov. 4, covers businesses with 100 or more employees. Under it, the businesses must implement and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to choose to either be vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a mask, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Workers would have to have their final vaccine dose by Jan. 4, according to Biden's administration. The nation's unvaccinated workers face grave danger from workplace exposure to coronavirus, and immediate action is necessary to protect them, the labor department said in a statement last week.

“We must take action to implement this emergency temporary standard to contain the virus and protect people in the workplace against the grave danger of COVID-19," U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said on Nov. 4.

"Many businesses understand the benefits of having their workers vaccinated against COVID-19, and we expect many will be pleased to see this OSHA rule go into effect."

In addition to filing the brief on Wednesday, the Michigan Senate approved a resolution that labeled the federal policy "an egregious overreach" that infringes on Americans' civil liberties. The proposal passed in a party-line, 20-15 vote.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Shirkey said the new federal requirements would unfairly put businesses in a "bind."

"The federal government getting further into their underwear is unnecessary, unwarranted, unproductive and indefensible," Shirkey said.

Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, said it was "amazing" that the resolution was what the Senate was prioritizing on Wednesday with billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief money still not allocated by lawmakers.

"Apparently, this body can't resist another opportunity to play politics with a pointless resolution that accomplishes nothing," Geiss said.

As of Tuesday, 69.8% of Michigan's population age 16 and up had received at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the state health department. The statistic means 2.4 million Michiganians age 16 and up still haven't been vaccinated.

Michigan's COVID-19 case rates and hospitalization numbers linked to the virus have been trending upward for months. The percentage of COVID-19 tests bringing positive results hit 13.7% last week, the highest weekly percentage since April 11-17, according to state health department data.

In the new court filing, the Legislature contended the U.S. Constitution reserves the general police power to the state, and that power encompasses public health. For that reason, the filing argued, states "have long understood that OSHA’s federal intrusion into a field traditionally occupied by the states was limited to occupational health and safety hazards."

The vaccine policy "obliterates that common understanding, trying to regulate activities outside the occupational setting that touch on citizens’ daily lives," the filing said.

cmauger@detroitnews.com