By Jack Phillips
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued that he doesn’t believe the federal government can order mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations or mask-wearing.
“I don’t think the federal government can order this, and so it’s going to be up to the states to decide what they’re going to do,” Paxton told Newsmax over the weekend, adding that he believes federal law stipulates people can’t be forced to disclose health information around COVID-19, including their vaccination status.
“I would absolutely think federal law would cover that,” Paxton, a Republican, said in the interview. “But also, what right does the Congress of the federal government have to tell anybody that they have to be vaccinated. That’s an individual choice.”
He added: “I don’t know under what law they would have to operate under, but they certainly can’t tell the American public that they have to be vaccinated.”
His comments may contradict a recent opinion issued by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel saying that federal law doesn’t prohibit public agencies and private businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccines under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization.
The agency’s opinion (pdf) noted that some have questioned the legality of COVID-19 vaccine mandates and concluded that federal law concerning the FDA’s emergency use authorizations (EUA) on COVID-19 vaccines made by Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson doesn’t “prohibit public or private entities from imposing vaccine requirements, even when the only vaccines available are those authorized under EUAs.”
“For instance,” the opinion said, “certain schools will require vaccination in order for students to attend class in person, and certain employers will require vaccination as a condition of employment.”
It comes as the Biden administration recently announced that federal employees would have to get fully vaccinated or be subject to routine COVID-19 testing. Reports have said that U.S. Postal Service workers would be exempt from the mandate.
However, on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that a nationwide vaccination requirement “is not on the table” but said that employers have the right to take that step.
When asked whether there was any consideration of a vaccine requirement to enter federal property, Psaki said, “Not across the country, no.”
Several states, including New York, have ordered state agency employees to get vaccinated or also be subject to regular tests. On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said that workers with state-run transportation agencies will now be subject to such a mandate.
Throughout the pandemic, the federal government has implemented few COVID-19-related restrictions and namely has targeted travel and public transportation. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance—not mandates—around mask-wearing.
Some Republican-led states this year have passed laws that forbid the usage of vaccine passports in government agencies and offices. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, went a step further and signed a law that prohibits all private businesses from using vaccine passports in his state.
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