Senators join legal brief opposing vaccine requirements

WYOMING – Both of Wyoming’s elected senators joined other congressional Republicans in filing an amicus brief to an upcoming case before the U.S. Supreme Court that considers the recent vaccine requirements or weekly testing for private companies that employee more than 100 people.

Sen. John Barrasso announced earlier this week that he and Sen. Cynthia Lummis both signed onto the brief.

The brief argues that Congress did not give the Occupational Safety and Health Administration authority to impose a vaccine mandate and urges the Supreme Court to stay the mandate.

The brief also argues that OSHA’s authority applies to only “workplace-specific” hazards and safety measures, and that the novel coronavirus impacts life outside of work, therefore OSHA’s authority on the matter is flawed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit lifted 5th Circuit’s stay of the vaccine requirement for large employers on Dec. 17, 2021. The U.S. Department of Labor announced it would start enforcing the requirement on Jan. 10, and would give employers acting in good faith until Feb. 9 before citations for violations would be issued.

Congressional Republicans’ brief does acknowledge that the current requirement for companies and entities that employee more than 100 people allow for testing and masking alternatives to a required vaccination. The brief argues that testing costs money, which would either be put onto the companies or employees. Companies incurring the extra cost would likely require vaccines in order to save money, and that cost imposed on employees would either force them to unwillingly get vaccinated or quit their jobs, the brief said.

“Either way, the testing option in the mandate will largely be illusory in practice as both employers and employees would be reticent to pay for it,” a citation in the brief reads. “Moreover, the testing option is rightly viewed as a punitive measure for those unwilling to get the vaccine since individuals with a vaccine can contract and spread COVID-19.”

The brief also cites OSHA analysis that does not claim “grave danger” as defined by the OSH Act. Members of Congress also wrote “a virus is not a ‘toxic or physically harmful’ ‘agent’ as defined in the OSH Act.”

In Wyoming, the Wyoming Department of Health reported 92,929 lab-confirmed cases with an additional 24,460 probable cases of COVID-19 as of earlier this week. The WDH also confirmed 1,572 COVID-related deaths.

Sublette County, specifically, has had nearly 1,500 cumulative lab-confirmed cases and probable cases as of Jan. 4. Those numbers don’t reflect recent confirmations as the omicron variant has rapidly spread throughout the country, leading to the first millionth confirmed-case day of the pandemic earlier this week.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill have issued legal challenges to all three vaccine requirements issued from President Biden and his administration. All three of those issues are working through the courts and have put a hold on each vaccine requirement for the time being.