Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves is ordering state agencies to support an upcoming lawsuit aimed at undoing President Joe Biden’s federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates. A lawsuit could come by week’s end, he said Tuesday.
“Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates are one of the most shocking attacks on personal liberty we have seen in this country during my lifetime,” Reeves said in a social media post. “I am a strong supporter of the COVID vaccines and commend the Trump administration’s efforts to develop it. … The federal mandates, however, threaten every Mississippians’ individual liberties. They are nothing short of tyranny.”
Biden’s vaccine mandate includes employees at institutions in the state that have federal contracts or receive federal grants, such as universities and businesses with more than 100 employees. On Oct. 25, the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees ordered all eight universities in the state to mandate vaccines for employees and staff under Biden’s guidelines.
“The best path our founders provided states to push back on federal tyranny is through the courts,” Reeves said Tuesday. “We are working closely with our Attorney General’s office. I expect that we will have a lawsuit filed against the Biden administration by the end of the week to stop this ridiculous overreach. I’ve instructed every branch of government that I control to work in support of this suit and this cause.”
Biden: ‘I Refuse to Give In’
Biden’s federal vaccine mandates do include several exemptions, including for medical reasons, disability and “sincerely held religious beliefs” about vaccines.
“Our laws guarantee you religious freedom, and the federal government cannot force or threaten you to make a decision that may jeopardize your personal health,” said Reeves, whose own state’s childhood vaccine mandates for other diseases are among the strictest in the nation and do not allow religious or other non-medical exemptions.
The governor has not always been a vocal opponent of vaccine mandates or health mandates. As lieutenant governor and Mississippi Senate president in 2015, Reeves presided over the unanimous passage of a bill to incarcerate tuberculosis patients who refuse treatment. The same bill failed in the Mississippi House by a 40-to-70 vote. Meanwhile, numerous bills aimed at either repealing Mississippi’s childhood vaccine mandates or adding religious exemptions died without a vote during Reeves’ time as Senate president.
When the Mississippi governor first described Biden’s mandates as “tyranny” in September, the president publicly denounced the remarks.
“In Mississippi, children are required to be vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, hepatitis B, polio, tetanus, and more. These are state requirements. But in the midst of a pandemic that has already taken over 660,000 lives, I propose a requirement for COVID vaccines and the governor of that state calls it, quote, ‘a tyrannical type move?’ It’s the worst kind of politics,” Biden said on Sept. 16. “Because it’s putting the lives of citizens in their states, especially children, at risk, and I refuse to give into it.”
Mississippi’s Republican attorney general, Lynn Fitch, has repeatedly expressed support for Reeves’ position.
“I have serious concerns about the president’s federal contractor vaccine mandate,” Fitch said in a statement on Oct. 27. “And those concerns have become graver as the various task forces and agencies in the federal bureaucracy have weighed in with guidance on implementing that mandate. Forcing people to vaccine or lose their jobs is a flawed premise—that decision belongs to each individual—and the mismanaged execution of that idea demonstrates how utterly unworkable it is as a national policy.”
Vaccine mandates have served a role throughout U.S. history, dating back to 1777 when General George Washington ordered the mass inoculation of the Continental Army to prevent the spread of the smallpox virus.
The U.S. Supreme Court has long upheld vaccine mandates for public health reasons. Since last month, the current slate of U.S. Supreme Court justices has rejected challenges to vaccine mandates in Maine, New York and Indiana. Those cases were filed by individual teachers, health care workers and Indiana State University, though, not by the states themselves.
‘The Vaccine Is About Living And Not Liberty’
Multiple surveys of Americans in August and September found that a majority of Americans support Biden’s federal vaccine mandates, including 63% of respondents in a Monmouth poll, 51% in a Fox News poll and 65% in a survey conducted by a consortium of universities.
Mississippi has the highest COVID-19 death rate in the nation. Despite being spared the worst of the pandemic’s first few months, one of every 292 residents has now died of COVID-19.
Before vaccination rates spiked when the delta variant swept the state over the summer, Mississippi ranked last in COVID-19 vaccinations. Today, 46% of Mississippians are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, below the national rate of 58%. Mississippi now ranks 46th in COVID-19 vaccinations, ahead of only Alabama, Idaho, West Virginia and Wyoming.
U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s lone Democratic representative in Congress, used social media to push back on Reeves’ criticisms of Biden’s mandates this morning.
“To date, Covid-19 has killed 10,129 Mississippians and has infected thousands more. Mississippi have the highest death rate in the country,” he tweeted. “The vaccine is about living and not liberty.”