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Group sues San Diego over city COVID-19 vaccination mandate

ReOpen San Diego co-founder Amy Reichert and other protesters rally at San Diego City Hall on July 30.
ReOpen San Diego co-founder Amy Reichert and other protesters rally at San Diego City Hall on July 30. The group has now filed a lawsuit against the city in federal court, challenging its COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
(Deborah Sullivan Brennan / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

ReOpen San Diego’s suit in federal court alleges the mandate is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

The organization ReOpen San Diego sued the city of San Diego this week over the city’s mandate that all city employees, elected officials, board and commission members and volunteers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 15 in federal court, claims the vaccination mandate the City Council passed Nov. 29 with an 8-1 vote is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

The nonprofit had threatened to sue in December, when it sent the city a letter demanding that it revoke the mandate and arguing that the requirement illegally restricts the pool of potential public officials, including those who would run for public office. The city did not respond to the demand letter, according to the lawsuit.

“This is the only recourse we have, as the people, to be able to protect our meaningful participation in government,” ReOpen San Diego co-founder Amy Reichert said in an interview.

“I absolutely believe in keeping people safe when it makes sense,” she added. “This doesn’t make sense, and it’s discriminatory on its face.”

The city attorney’s office issued a statement saying its staff would review the lawsuit and respond through the courts.

The lawsuit asks the court to stop the city from enforcing the mandate pending trial and to declare the requirement unlawful and award the plaintiffs attorneys fees and costs.

“The ordinance and plan together operate to exclude an entire category of individuals from meaningful participation in city government — whether by serving as an elected official, board member, volunteer or even (eventually) attending a city meeting or engaging in city business in a city building — due solely to a personal medical decision whether to be vaccinated for COVID-19 (or an individual’s refusal to disclose their COVID-19 vaccine status),” the lawsuit alleges.

“The ordinance and plan are also blatantly illegal, as they violate the U.S. Constitution and state and local law and offend the foundational principles of democracy,” according to the suit.

Arie Spangler, an attorney representing ReOpen San Diego in the lawsuit, said in an email that he expects the court will be persuaded that the mandate is an “assault on democracy” that interferes with citizens’ rights, including their right to participate in government and to elect representatives “from all types of political persuasions.”

City officials have stood behind the mandate, describing it as a lawful and necessary step to protect public health. City staff, officials or volunteers can request medical or religious exemptions, which would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, according to city officials.

ReOpen San Diego has organized rallies and protests against COVID-19 measures such as school closures and mask and vaccination requirements. It has clashed with county supervisors and other local officials at public meetings and orchestrated hours of public comments denouncing pandemic restrictions.


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