East Tennessee rep wants lawsuit to block Biden vaccine mandate

By: - September 14, 2021 5:00 am
Tennessee State Capitol (Photo: John Partipilo)

Tennessee State Capitol (Photo: John Partipilo)

Kingston Republican Rep. Bud Hulsey is ready for Tennessee to go to court in an effort to stop President Joe Biden’s vaccination order from taking effect here.

Just days after the president introduced an executive mandate requiring employers with at least 100 workers to make sure they’re vaccinated or show a weekly negative COVID-19 test, Hulsey said he is writing a letter to Attorney General Herbert Slatery asking him to file a federal lawsuit to remove Tennessee from the president’s order.

State Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
State Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

“I think he’s hugely out on a limb constitutionally. I don’t think the executive branch has the power to make law like that,” Hulsey said of Biden.

Hulsey noted he doesn’t believe the government can interfere in private businesses’ hiring and firing policies when it comes to the vaccines. In other words, neither the state nor federal government can require companies to have their employees vaccinated, nor can they stop companies from requiring workers to be vaccinated.

In addition to potential legal action, Hulsey said, “I’m hoping the Legislature will stand up and say, no, this is not happening here.”

Hulsey sponsored legislation in 2021 prohibiting state and local governments from requiring employees to take COVID-19 vaccines. It passed the House 72-19 before making its way through the Senate with amendments that watered down the initial bill.

The Senate version of the measure was sponsored by Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, who has questioned the efficacy of vaccines now approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Bowling could not be reached Monday for comment.

Hulsey said in his letter to Slatery he plans to quote the 9th and 10th amendments dealing with the rights of citizens and states’ rights to stop federal government “overreach.”

A retired police lieutenant, Hulsey said he has not spoken to House Speaker Cameron Sexton about his planned request. He wasn’t certain whether Sexton would be willing to seek a special session to respond to the president’s plan.

Doug Kufner, spokesman for Sexton, said Monday the speaker asked the governor for a special session several weeks ago.

“Why would he need to ask for another one?” Kufner said.

Sexton threatened to seek a special session in August if any school system closed buildings, required masks or segregated unvaccinated students from others. 

Hulsey said in his letter to Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery he plans to quote the 9th and 10th amendments dealing with the rights of citizens and states’ rights to stop federal government “overreach.”

Some school systems mandated masks anyway, but Gov. Bill Lee opted against calling the Legislature back to Nashville, instead issuing an executive order allowing parents to opt out of any school district mandate for students to wear masks in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The governor has avoided enforcement of the order, which sparked two lawsuits against the state and an investigation of Tennessee by Biden’s Department of Education.

Gov. Lee has declined to comment on legal aspects of the matter, but last week he called Biden’s mandate a “terrible idea.” House Republican lawmakers contend the Biden plan is a form of “tyranny.”

In contrast, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie said efforts to stop vaccinations are growing “exhausting and tiring.” He added that lawmakers should stop “political grandstanding and posturing.”

“We have leaders that aren’t willing to lead. We have an obligation to protect our communities,” said Dixie, a Nashville Democrat. “We are at the point now where you either lead, follow or get out of the way. We are gambling with people’s lives.”

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville (Photo: John Partipilo)
Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville (Photo: John Partipilo)

In addition to the employer requirement, the White House wants to make at-home testing more accessible; increase efforts to vaccinate the 10% of school teachers and school district staff members who are unvaccinated; push the federal mask requirement for airplane passengers to Jan. 18 and provide more medical personnel to hospitals slammed with COVID-19 patients.

State Rep. John Ray Clemmons said Monday he is “disappointed” the president is having to mandate vaccines that Americans should have sought immediately to protect themselves, their families and neighbors.

“I suspect the knob on the federalism debate will stay turned up to 11 for the duration of the pandemic and as long as a responsible leader is serving in the White House,” said Clemmons, a Nashville Democrat.

With more Republican-appointed judges serving in courts, Clemmons said he expects multiple states to take legal action against Biden’s plan. But he noted special interest groups linked to the Republican Party will not want Gov. Lee and Slatery “leading this important constitutional debate.”

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.