Texas governor Greg Abbott has issued the latest challenge to US president Joe Biden’s covid-19 vaccine mandates, with an executive order that bans any state entity from requiring workers or customers to be vaccinated.
“The covid-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced,” Abbott said on Oct. 11, arguing that no person with a religious or medical objection to the vaccine should be required to get it.
The Texas ban on vaccine mandates applies to private employers, some of whom have already said they will comply with Biden’s Sept. 9 order directing businesses with more than 100 workers to require Covid-19 vaccinations or weekly testing.
The US Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has not yet issued the emergency rule requested by the White House to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations and testing for private employers. But a number of companies headquartered in Texas—including American Airlines and AT&T—announced mandates anyway following Biden’s order.
In the executive order, Abbott accused the Biden administration of “bullying” private entities into imposing covid-19 vaccine mandates, in turn causing workforce disruptions and threatening Texas’ economic recovery.
Nearly 52% of Texas residents, including Abbott himself, have been fully vaccinated against covid-19, and cases have been on the decline following a dramatic surge over the summer. The ban on mandates comes as the governor is facing political pressure to take a stand against public health edicts enacted in light of the ongoing pandemic. Former state senator Don Huffines, who is challenging Abbott in next year’s gubernatorial race, tweeted yesterday that Texas Republicans are tired of vaccine requirements.
Abbott issued an executive order banning mask mandates over the summer that drew pushback from school districts and local governments, which in turn enacted their own requirements.
Vaccine mandates for both public and private sector employees throughout the US have been subject to a number of legal challenges in recent months, but have so far been largely unsuccessful. A lawsuit brought by 117 Houston Methodist Hospital employees over its covid vaccine requirement was dismissed by a federal judge in June.
The US has a long history of mandating vaccines, and legal precedent supports such requirements. Lawrence Gostin, a professor who specializes in public health law at Georgetown Law, says he believes Abbott’s order is “entirely without” legal, public health, or ethical justification, and he expects it to be challenged and struck down.
“Even if the Texas ban were upheld, it would still be pre-empted by the OSHA rule,” Gostin said, referring to the forthcoming vaccine regulation targeting private employers. The US Constitution’s supremacy clause states that the federal government’s actions supersede state law, Gostin adds: “In this case you have a direct conflict, and it’s very clear to me that the courts would not allow a state ban to interfere with a federal law and policy.”