Nessel says she will back Biden vaccine mandate in SCOTUS case

By: - December 22, 2021 5:00 am

Attorney General Dana Nessel | Whitmer office photo

If an opportunity arises, Attorney General Dana Nessel will support President Joe Biden’s worker vaccine mandate before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Michigan AG told reporters at a media roundtable Monday.

Attorneys general from Republican-led states, religious groups, manufacturing companies, and others are asking the Supreme Court for emergency action to block the Biden administration from implementing its requirement that large businesses mandate their employees be vaccinated or face weekly testing and masking. 

“I am not challenging the mandate because I support it,” Nessel said. “If it is my job to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the residents of this state, then I think everyone ought to get vaccinated unless they have a medical reason that prevents them from doing so.”

The vaccine case would be just one of many national lawsuits the Democrat has been involved in since taking office.

Although it may seem like she has engaged in much more federal litigation than the Michigan AGs before her, Nessel said that she has simply been more publicly transparent about her actions than her predecessors.

“It’s not that we’re involved in substantially more national litigation, it’s that the public knows when we are,” said Nessel, whose office typically sends out a press release each time the Democratic AG joins a multi-state lawsuit.

Since coming into office in 2019, Nessel has been involved in a litany of national legal actions, including on environmental, immigration, reproductive health, LGBTQ+ issues, and more. Many of those multi-state lawsuits were brought as challenges to actions by former President Donald Trump’s administration. 

I am not challenging the mandate because I support it. If it is my job to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the residents of this state, then I think everyone ought to get vaccinated unless they have a medical reason that prevents them from doing so.

– Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

But despite being a supporter of President Joe Biden, she said she will not hesitate to similarly challenge his administration if she feels an action is harmful.

“I’ll bring a case against the Biden administration as quickly as I would against the Trump administration, if I think the federal government is doing something that hurts the residents of our state. But I haven’t seen that happen so far,” Nessel said.

As a progressive, Nessel says she is “very impressed” with what Biden has “tried to do” and many of the things he has done. She is at the very least pleased that she hasn’t had to sue the current administration like she did the previous Donald Trump administration.

“In terms of the policies of the Biden administration, for the most part, I support those policies. In regard to his ability to execute on those policies, especially some of the broader policies, obviously there are different issues at play,” Nessel said, referring to Biden’s flagship “Build Back Better” agenda that was single-handedly shot down this weekend by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), although talks are continuing.

“Those are the kinds of things that make me happy to be attorney general — and either at a state level or at a federal level, not working at a legislative capacity or an executive capacity,” Nessel continued. She likened Biden’s struggle leveraging power in Congress with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s difficulties working with Michigan’s GOP-led state Legislature.

Michigan’s divided government has been an issue for both parties. Legislative Republicans have fought against many actions Whitmer has taken, particularly in regards to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that continues to wreak havoc in the state. GOP lawmakers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars suing Whitmer this year in an effort to gut her emergency powers during the pandemic.

Before Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions were all but lifted, Nessel’s role was to enforce those orders.

Now, Nessel is looking for an opportunity to get involved in another COVID-19 related legal fight — this time on the national level, as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to take up a challenge to Biden’s worker vaccine mandate in the coming weeks. The Biden administration is pushing for businesses with 100 employees or more to require that their workers be vaccinated or face mandatory weekly testing and masking.

Nessel has not filed anything in support yet, but says she would sign on to a multi-state effort to back Biden’s mandate.

“It’s so painful to watch all the same things that happened a year ago happening again now. … So, no, I am not going to join a lawsuit attempting to stop the vaccine mandate from going into effect, and I think it’s irresponsible and reckless for the AGs who have,” she added.

Whitmer, on the other hand, has criticized Biden’s mandate. She told business owners in Howard City earlier this month that she has “a lot of the same concerns” they have about losing employees over the requirement, adding that “it’s going to be a problem for all of us.”

GOP former state House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt), who is running again for attorney general after losing to Nessel in 2018, hit back against Nessel’s remarks in a statement Tuesday and called Biden’s mandate “unconstitutional.”

“Dana Nessel has always put her far left liberal activist policies above the needs of Michigan families, but this is an extreme step, even for her. Not even Governor Whitmer would touch this disastrous mandate, but somehow Dana Nessel is more than ready to push hundreds of thousands of people out of their jobs at the holidays,” Leonard said.

Leonard will square off with state Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.) and Kalamazoo-based attorney Matthew DePerno for the GOP attorney general nomination. DePerno, who is known for espousing conspiracy theories, was endorsed by Trump in September. The Michigan GOP convention is scheduled for April 2022.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).