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Last-minute attempt to block Washington's COVID-19 vaccine mandate fails in court

A Thurston County Superior Court judge decided not to block Inslee's mandate requiring state employees to get vaccinated or risk losing their jobs.

THURSTON COUNTY, Wash. — A prosecuting attorney who represented unvaccinated Washington state workers and brought a lawsuit against Gov. Jay Inslee argues the COVID-19 vaccine mandate "does not help the public interest."

A Thurston County Superior Court judge decided not to block Inslee's mandate requiring state employees to get vaccinated or risk losing their jobs.  

The lawsuit was brought forward on behalf of more than 100 unvaccinated state workers. Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Arnold argued the mandate is an example of government overreach and one that does not allow for reasonable alternatives such as mask-wearing or testing. 

"We will have the same number of unvaccinated people at midnight. We will just have less nurses and less firefighters. That does not help the public interest,” Arnold said in court.  

The prosecution warned of mass resignations among the very employees that served on the front lines of the pandemic.  

“My clients at midnight tonight are not just going to go away. These same people are still going to exist in our communities and if they are such a threat as the governor says they are, they will just be out in public doing jobs without the benefit of PPE (personal protective equipment) and without performing their essential lifesaving functions that they have been able to do for the last 18 months,” Arnold said.

Attorneys for the state say the mandate, brought about by a surge in delta variant cases, is well within the governor’s emergency powers.

“The far greater tragedy would be allowing health care workers, teachers and others who work very closely with sensitive groups, to allow them to interact with the public and endanger the public whom they’re supposed to serve,” said Zach Pekelis Jones, an attorney representing the governor.  

Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy didn’t rule on the merits of the mandate, but rather determined the plaintiffs would not be able to show the policy would be unjust for all and therefore denied the motion for injunction.  

“Even if the individual plaintiffs show that individual instances in which the proclamation and the resulting actions may be unjust, the plaintiffs have not met their burden to show that is unjust in all applications,” Judge Murphy said.