Patrick Morrisey

WV Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is promising a legal challenge to President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for millions of working Americans.

Morrisey, a Republican, issued a statement calling Biden’s move a “historic overreach,” adding that his office has already been in close contact with other attorneys general offices about how the states will be fighting back against Biden’s plan. Biden announced last week nearly 100 million working Americans will be required to take the vaccine or seek an exemption for weekly testing.

“There should be no reason for hesitation in passing a ban on vaccine mandates or passport requirements or, at a minimum, requiring religious or medical exemptions in such requirements,”  Morrisey said. “President Biden has shown us the pathway of what not to do. We need to encourage and suggest, but not mandate, our way to public health. I will be in litigation against the Biden Administration very soon to protect West Virginians from this historic overreach.”

Gov. Jim Justice, also a Republican, said last week that he too was opposed to Biden’s vaccine mandate.

Morrisey’s office issued a 21-page letter expressing concerns that vaccine mandates or vaccine passports instituted by a private employer may violate federal and state anti-discrimination laws, especially if exceptions for religious and disability-based objections are not provided for.

Morrisey also is recommending that the state Legislature take steps to prevent broad-based COVID vaccine mandates, adding that lawmakers have the authority to make laws that protect individual liberty interests, while still protecting the public health.

The legal opinion issued by Morrisey concludes that broad vaccine mandates and vaccine passport requirements, especially those without exceptions, may offend:

• Constitutional interests in personal medical decision-making.

• The sacred constitutional right to religious freedom.

• The fundamental rights to assemble, vote, petition, and generally engage as a member of civil society.

According to Morrisey’s office, the legal arguments will provide tools for West Virginians who oppose the imposition of mandates, and are seeking relief from the Legislature. 

 The opinion also concludes that laws or policies whether passed by a state, county or city entity – requiring all government employees to be COVID vaccinated – would violate the state constitution as well as state and federal laws, Morrisey’s office said.

Members of the Republican-controlled West Virginia Legislature asked Morrisey for an opinion about legal issues that may arise from vaccine mandates and vaccine passports related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Morrisey’s office subsequently provided a legal opinion in a letter to Senate President Craig P. Blair and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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