A federal court on Tuesday denied a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma Republican Governor Kevin Stitt that challenged the Pentagon’s military-wide coronavirus vaccine mandate by asking that the requirement be suspended for his state’s National Guard members until a final court decision is made.
Judge Stephen P. Friot sided with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who has said the mandate is needed to maintain a healthy force that is ready to act quickly. Friot also disagreed with Stitt’s assertion that the Pentagon was overstepping its constitutional authority, noting that guard members are already required to receive nine immunizations.
‘’Adding a tenth . . . vaccine to the list of nine that all service members are already required to take would hardly amount to ‘an enormous and transformative expansion [of the] regulatory authority’ the Secretary of Defense already possesses,’’ he wrote in his ruling.
The ruling boosts the legal standing of the military vaccine mandate as the Biden administration struggles to increase vaccination rates among Americans.
Tuesday’s decision comes a few weeks after the Republican governors of Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Wyoming urged the Pentagon to reconsider vaccine requirements for their National Guard contingents in a joint letter.
They argued — just as Stitt has done — that the National Guard is under the authority of each state’s governor unless activated by the president. This means, they said, that coronavirus vaccination requirements cannot be imposed by the defense secretary on their states’ National Guard members so long as the troops are not mobilized by the federal government.
Judge Friot’s ruling on Tuesday served as a de facto disagreement with that argument.
‘’It is unmistakably clear that the intent of Congress . . . is that the Guard and its members will at all events be prepared, conformably to federal military standards, to be ordered into federal service . . . on little or no notice,’’ said Friot, who was nominated to his post by Republican President George W. Bush in 2001.
The Biden administration is ‘’acting well within the authority granted by the Constitution and laws of the United States,’’ Friot added.
Many states — sometimes successfully — have sought to convince courts to halt the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates, which have aimed to compel federal contractors, federal agencies, private businesses with 100 or more workers, and health-care facilities covered by Medicaid and Medicare to vaccinate their employees, minus those who have qualified for medical or religious exemptions.
Those states’ leaders, many of them Republicans, have said that the mandates infringe upon citizens’ rights to make their own medical decisions.
Fines mount as 2 Georgia representatives go without masks
WASHINGTON — During a recent marathon session in the House, two Republican lawmakers from Georgia sat in full view of television cameras. Neither was wearing a mask.
It was the latest act of defiance by the pair, Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Andrew Clyde, against a rule requiring legislators to wear masks on the House floor. Most Republican lawmakers, however grudgingly, have complied with the mandate, which can carry fines that quickly add up to hefty amounts. But Greene and Clyde have repeatedly, and proudly, flouted it.
To date, the two have incurred more than $100,000 combined in fines, which are taken directly from their paychecks.
A resolution approved by the House in January says that members will be fined $500 the first time they fail to wear a mask on the House floor, and $2,500 for subsequent violations. The House Ethics Committee notes each fine in a news release, but Greene’s and Clyde’s violations were so numerous that the panel began announcing theirs in bunches.
Greene, who has said she is unvaccinated, called the mask requirement “communist,” “tyrannical” and “authoritarian.”
“The American people have had enough and are standing up against these outrageous and unconstitutional policies,” she said in a statement.
Greene has been fined more than 30 times for violating the mask rules, accumulating more than $80,000 in penalties, according to her office. She was fined five days in a row during one stretch this fall.
Only 20 of Greene’s fines, totaling nearly $50,000, have been announced by the Ethics Committee. (House procedures and appeals can delay announcements by up to two months.)
Clyde has been fined at least 14 times for violating the mask rule, accruing at least $30,000 in penalties.
In contesting his fines, Clyde has accused the House and the sergeant-at-arms, who enforces the penalties, of a “deeply troubling” practice of “selective enforcement.”
Representative Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican who has also been fined, suggested that Clyde had found a way around paying the penalties. Massie told CNN that Clyde had changed his payroll withholdings so that he was paid only $1 a month.
A spokesperson for Clyde did not respond to a request for comment.
Other Republicans who have been fined at least once for not wearing a mask on the House floor include Bob Good of Virginia, Brian Mast of Florida, Mary Miller of Illinois, Beth Van Duyne of Texas, Chip Roy of Texas, Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa.
Massie, Greene, and Norman have filed a federal lawsuit in Washington against Speaker Nancy Pelosi, seeking a judge’s order to strike down the fines as unconstitutional. The suit accuses Pelosi of using the mandate “as a cudgel” to dock the pay of her “political opponents.”
It argues that the House may fine members for disorderly behavior, but that the Republicans do not believe refusing to wear a mask falls into that category.
NEW YORK TIMES