San Antonio Express-News
Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday sued the Biden administration over its military-wide COVID vaccine mandate, arguing the requirement should not apply to members of the Texas National Guard who have not been activated by the federal government.
Abbott’s plan — laid out in a letter to Texas Adjutant General Tracy Norris, who oversees the state’s National Guard — follows efforts by other Republican governors who have tried to shield National Guard members from the federal vaccine requirement. Hours ahead of Abbott’s announcement, a federal judge struck down a similar lawsuit filed by the Oklahoma governor, noting that National Guard troops are already subject to nine other required immunizations.
In his letter to Norris on Tuesday, Abbott said the National Guard remains under his authority unless deployed by the president — meaning they are not subject to the federal vaccine mandate, he argued.
“Unless President Biden federalizes the Texas National Guard in accordance with Title 10 of the U.S. Code, he is not your commander-in-chief under our federal or state Constitutions,” Abbott wrote to Norris. “And as long as I am your commander-in-chief, I will not tolerate efforts to compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine. To the extent the DoD vaccine mandate conflicts with the order I have given, my order controls.”
Attorney General Ken Paxton filed the lawsuit on Abbott’s behalf in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, based in Tyler.
About 40% of its Army National Guard are currently refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccination “for either religious accommodation needs or otherwise,” according to the lawsuit filed in a federal court in East Texas.
In October, Abbott ordered Norris not to enforce the federal coronavirus vaccine mandate for service members, which the Biden administration had announced in August. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin later rejected Oklahoma’s request to exempt National Guard troops from the mandate and said the Pentagon would cut off funding for troops who refuse the vaccine.
Abbott followed with a missive to Austin in December that stated the Texas National Guard “will not punish any guardsman in Texas for choosing not to receive the vaccine,” despite Austin’s warning.
On Monday, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Pentagon from punishing a group of 35 Navy SEALs and other service members who had refused COVID vaccinations, citing their religious beliefs. Last month, the Air Force discharged 27 people for refusing to get the vaccine.
Abbott, who is up for re-election this year, faces at least two GOP primary opponents in March who have urged him to more forcefully combat Biden’s COVID vaccine mandates. One of his foes, former Texas Republican Party chair Allen West, responded to Abbott’s announcement by tweeting, “Lawyers sue . . . Warriors lead.”
Former state senator Don Huffines, another of Abbott’s primary challengers, also criticized the governor’s move to take legal action.
“Hey Greg Abbott, lawsuits aren’t leadership,” Huffines tweeted. “You’re the commander in chief of the Texas National Guard. You can protect them from vaccine mandates without asking a court.”
Abbott’s announcement comes as he has mobilized some 10,000 members of the Texas Military Department — which includes the 19,000-member National Guard — to support his border initiative, known as Operation Lone Star. The plan calls for state authorities to arrest and jail migrants largely on state trespassing charges.
The operation has been hindered by a series of problems since authorities began making the arrests in late July, including the release of several hundred migrants after local prosecutors failed to bring charges for weeks — an apparent violation of state law — or dismissed the cases after deciding there was not probable cause to believe a crime had been committed.
National Guard troops who have been deployed for Abbott’s operation are facing widespread pay delays, while the state has dramatically cut the Guard’s tuition assistance budget amid state-required budget cuts, the Army Times has reported.
(c)2022 the San Antonio Express-News
Visit the San Antonio Express-News at www.mysanantonio.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.