Calling a rule that federal contractors must show proof of Covid-19 vaccination or submit to weekly testing a “heavy-handed mandate,” Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida announced on Thursday that his administration was suing the federal government to challenge the requirement.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tampa, seeks to block a Dec. 8 deadline imposed by the Biden administration for federal contractors to get vaccinated.
Legal experts say the federal government has broad authority to address a public health crisis like the pandemic with measures like vaccine mandates and that such suits have little chance of succeeding. The Supreme Court has turned away legal challenges to vaccine mandates at Indiana University and for health care workers in Maine.
Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, spoke at a news conference at the Florida Air Museum in Lakeland, in a nod to the state’s aerospace contractors. Among the named defendants in the lawsuit are NASA and its administrator, Bill Nelson, a former U.S. senator from Florida.
“We’ve got a very big footprint of companies that do contracting work for the federal government,” Mr. DeSantis said about his state. “There’s a lot of folks that will be in the cross hairs on this.”
Joining Mr. DeSantis at the news conference were the state’s attorney general, Ashley Moody, and several contractors and their relatives. One contractor who provides vending machines to federal and state buildings said that he had not yet gotten a shot because he was “waiting for more information” on vaccinations.
Lawrence O. Gostin, a Georgetown University law professor who specializes in public health, wrote in an email that “DeSantis will almost certainly lose this lawsuit.”
Mr. Gostin said he expected that Biden’s order to vaccinate federal workers and contractors would stand, even in states that have banned vaccine mandates, because under the Constitution’s supremacy clause federal rules pre-empt state and local dictates.
“The president is the head of the federal workforce,” Mr. Gostin wrote. “Just like any business or employer, he has the clear power to set reasonable, evidence-based rules to ensure a safe and productive workforce.”
Lawsuits like Mr. DeSantis’s are politically motivated, and are damaging because they feed public doubts about vaccination, Mr. Gostin said.
Mr. Gostin said that he thought mandates that do not include religious exemptions, like one for health care workers in New York State, could be more legally vulnerable.
“I feel strongly there is no legal requirement to offer religious exemptions, but the Supreme Court is highly sensitive to religious claims,” Mr. Gostin said.
Mr. DeSantis faces re-election next year, and is considered to be a leading hopeful for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 in the absence of a bid by former President Donald J. Trump, who won the state in the last two elections. For months, Mr. DeSantis has been a forceful opponent of all Covid vaccine requirements.
This year, the Florida Legislature and Mr. DeSantis prohibited businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination. Mr. DeSantis has said he intends to call a special legislative session to ban employers from requiring employees to be vaccinated. He also vowed on Thursday that Florida — which requires that students at both public and private schools get at least six kinds of vaccinations, including those for diphtheria, measles and hepatitis B — would not require schoolchildren to get Covid shots.
On Thursday in Lakeland, Mr. DeSantis stood behind a lectern with a sign that read “Protect Florida Jobs,” and warned of a wave of attrition if federal vaccine mandates are allowed to take effect.
“We are not going to deny people their ability to make a living based on their decision about an injection,” he said.