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Montana AG Promises Lawsuit Over Biden’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

 COVID-19 vaccination record card.
COVID-19 vaccination record card.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen is vowing to challenge the Biden Administration’s new nationwide COVID-19 vaccine mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees.

President Joe Biden announced the new vaccine rule for employers Thursday as cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise.

On Friday, Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a statement the mandate “undermines our personal freedoms and liberties” and that he’s looking at all options to push back.

Attorney General Knudsen took it a step further and promised Friday to sue the federal government as soon as the mandate becomes official, calling the rule tyrannical.

Anthony Johnstone, a constitutional law professor at the University of Montana, says he expects several states will challenge the rule.

“The real questions, then, are the bases of the federal government’s vaccine mandate,” he says.

In other words, does the Biden Administration’s rule fall within the powers granted to him by Congress? Johnstone says a similar question was asked when Biden used an executive order to extend the nationwide eviction moratorium. The U.S. Supreme Court struck that down.

Montana will be unique in its challenge because it’s the only state with a law that’s banned employers from discriminating against employees based on vaccine status. Some businesses are worried Biden’s mandate could push employees away at the same time they’re facing a shortage of workers.

Professor Sophia Newcomer with the University of Montana’s Center for Population Health Research says the mandate will boost vaccination uptake.

“The government is taking appropriate steps to deal with the dire situation that we’re in with regard to COVID-19. I mean, our health care system is starting to break,” she says.

Newcomer says that the delta variant wreaking havoc in the U.S. wouldn’t have been able to take hold if more people had gotten vaccinated earlier.

According to 2018 Census data, a little less than half of all workers in the state will be subject to the mandate.

Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.