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You (probably) still have to get vaxxed if you work in Houston

I’m glad to see this, but there’s a huge question that this story doesn’t address, much less answer.

Local companies say they will maintain their vaccination policies despite last week’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Biden administration’s vaccination mandate for firms with more than 100 employees.

The Houston software company Hewlett Packard Enterprises, for example, said vaccinations are still required for employees to enter offices, work at clients’ sites, travel for business, or required for team members to enter work sites, work at third-party sites, and to travel or attend events on business. Those who decline to be vaccinated are required to work from home.

More than 90 percent of the company’s workforce is vaccinated, a company spokesperson said. The company has not yet decided whether to require booster shots.

[…]

The Houston chemical company LyondellBasell and CenterPoint, the Houston utility company, have not adopted vaccine mandates. They said they have COVID protocols in place and will continue to monitor them.

Corporate vaccine requirement increased the rate of vaccination among employees by 20 percent, according to a recent survey by the National Safety Council. The survey found 95 percent of workers at businesses with vaccine mandates were inoculated, compared to 75 percent among those at businesses without requirements.

At BakerRipley, employees are required to get vaccinated or tested weekly, the Houston charity said. Nearly 90 percent of its 1,200 employees are fully vaccinated.

Camden Property Trust, a national real estate company headquartered in Houston, put in vaccine requirements over the summer before Biden announced the mandate. Of its 746 Texas employees, 718, or about 96 percent, are vaccinated, said Ric Campo, CEO of Camden Property Trust said.

“We just had this discussion about safety and it’s about keeping teammates safe. We’ve done all the analysis and that’s what we think,” Campo said, “And once people had a rational discussion, and it wasn’t political, and it wasn’t ‘You do this or else’ people chose to vaccinate.”

The few who aren’t vaccinated must wear masks at work, Campo said.

Whether to require vaccinations is now in the hands of companies, said Seth J. Chandler, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center. It’s unlikely that Congress would pass new laws to give OSHA the authority that the Supreme Court says it now lacks to impose workplace vaccination requirements.

The story is about the effect of the SCOTUS ruling that blocked the Biden employer vaccination mandate. I’m happy that employers are mostly moving forward with whatever vaccine policies they already had in the works, but I have to ask: What about the state ban on such mandates? The original story line was that employers would be caught between conflicting orders, but that’s no longer the case. The thought that these employers are ignoring Abbott or have found a way around him is delightful, but how is it possible? What are their legal risks here? Is there a lawsuit against the Abbott’s order?

So I did some googling. While Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee urged businesses to sue Abbott over this order, as far as I can tell none have done so yet. Maybe they were waiting to see what happened with the federal mandate first. On the question of what Abbott’s order actually means, I found some interesting writing. For example:

The Order provides enforcement via fines. Specifically, non-compliant entities may be fined up to $1,000 per offense, while jail time is specifically excluded as a penalty. The Order’s language makes no exception for health-care providers such as hospitals and other related entities.

The Order also contemplates its own sunset upon the passage of overlapping legislation. Specifically, in the Order, Governor Abbot states that he is “adding this issue to the agenda” for an upcoming session of the Texas legislature, and that he “will rescind this [Order] upon the effective date of such legislation[.]”

Notably, the Order contradicts both the Governor’s own statements on the rights of private businesses within the state, and legal consensus regarding the ability of employers to mandate vaccinations in most cases. For example, in August, Governor Abbot issued an executive order banning public and governmental entities from enacting vaccine mandates, but explicitly left private entities to make their own decisions regarding the matter. At that time, a spokesman for the Governor’s office also commented that private businesses would be left to make their own decisions regarding the matter. The Order essentially closes that loophole.

The Order also contravenes existing legal precedent within the state regarding employer vaccine mandates. For example, in June 2021, the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas dismissed a lawsuit by 117 employees of Houston Methodist Hospital; who claimed Methodist’s policy requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 amounted to wrongful termination under the law, because the vaccine(s) are “experimental and dangerous.” Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hosp., CV H-21-1774, 2021 WL 2399994, at *1 (S.D. Tex. June 12, 2021). In no uncertain terms, the Order squarely contradicts the holding in Bridges.

[…]

The immediate impact of the Order on businesses who implemented vaccine mandates is unclear—especially in light of conflicting Federal mandates. For example, Texas-based Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have stated publicly that—regardless of the Order—they will continue to implement plans requiring employees be vaccinated, citing federal mandates for contractors and the forthcoming OSHA rule for private business with 100 or more employees. While nothing is certain, it is somewhat likely that OSHA rules and regulations would preempt the Order. But Texas businesses with fewer than 100 employees would still be subject to the Order, or future, related State legislation.

Regardless, in light of the Order’s language, any Texas business entity that previously required employees or customers be vaccinated should seek counsel and reexamine its accompanying policies or risk non-compliance with the Order. At a minimum, Texas businesses should—for now—consider adding exemption language to vaccine policies that mimic the Order’s “personal conscience” and “prior recovery from COVID-19” carve outs.

The fact that the order only calls for what appears to be a modest fine (though that may depend on how an “offense” is counted; if it’s per employee, that would quickly add up) and conflicts with an existing federal court ruling may be the reason for the lack of action on it. Here’s more:

Additional questions loom, such as whether the governor’s Order exceeds his authority – his prior Executive Orders regarding vaccinations and so-called vaccine passports governed only public employers and private companies who were receiving state funds. Additional uncertainties include likely legal challenges to the Order; possible conflicts with federal law; and how and to what extent EO-40 will be enforced. It is also unclear to what extent, if any, the State will actually enforce EO-40, which provides for fines of up to $1,000 per violation.

Companies with employees in Texas who have already begun requiring vaccinations can take a relatively low risk approach to dealing with the governor’s Order by modifying their policies to provide accommodations to employees who object to being vaccinated on the basis of “personal conscience” (which is not defined in EO-40) and for “prior recovery from COVID-19.” These practices can be modified as new federal rules are issued and/or legal challenges play out. Other options for responding the Order are discussed in more detail below.

[…]

EO-40 departs from the governor’s prior orders in other ways. The Vaccine Passport Ban prohibits state agencies from adopting policies or requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of receiving services. In a notable contrast, EO-40 does not expressly forbid proof of vaccination as a condition of employment. Instead, it specifically forbids an entity from “compelling receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine.” By aiming squarely on the act of receiving a vaccination as opposed to policies requiring proof of vaccination, the Order gives rise to more ambiguity. In other words, employers may argue that they are not “compelling receipt” of a vaccine so long as that they do not intend to strap an employee down to a chair and force a vaccine needle into a worker’s arm, which they do not. Instead, that worker always has a choice: they can refuse to get vaccinated, but the consequence is that they will lose their job. Thus, another question is whether employer policies requiring vaccination as a condition of employment would be considered coercive enough to be deemed a violation of EO-40’s bar on compelling receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination.

In a larger context, considering the Texas’ at-will employment environment and the narrow availability of a “wrongful termination” cause of action in Texas, it is not clear that an employer “compels” an individual to be vaccinated by making it a condition of employment.

That last bit was a key component of that Methodist vaccine lawsuit. My interpretation of all this – and you lawyers out there, feel free to tell me why I’m wrong – is that businesses that want to get their employees vaccinated see a way forward, and so far the state hasn’t tried to make an example out of anyone. Abbott’s order was primarily about politics and his need to appear maximally troglodytic for the primary. If he scares a few businesses into abandoning any pro-vaccination plans, so much the better, but the point was to make the order. Optics come first, and on that score Abbott got what he wanted. The details don’t matter. Very much on brand for him, in other words.

Biden employer vaccine mandate back on

For now, at least.

A federal appeals court panel on Friday allowed President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for larger private employers to move ahead, reversing a previous decision on a requirement that could affect some 84 million U.S workers.

The 2-1 decision by a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati overrules a decision by a federal judge in a separate court that had paused the mandate nationwide.

The mandate from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration was to take effect Jan. 4. With Friday’s ruling, it’s not clear when the requirement might be put in place, but the White House said in a statement that it will protect workers: “Especially as the U.S. faces the highly transmissible Omicron variant, it’s critical we move forward with vaccination requirements and protections for workers with the urgency needed in this moment.”

[…]

“Given OSHA’s clear and exercised authority to regulate viruses, OSHA necessarily has the authority to regulate infectious diseases that are not unique to the workplace,” Judge Julia Smith Gibbons, who was nominated to the court by former President George W. Bush, a Republican, wrote in her majority opinion.

“Vaccination and medical examinations are both tools that OSHA historically employed to contain illness in the workplace,” she wrote.

Gibbons noted that the agency’s authority extends beyond just regulating “hard hats and safety goggles.” She said the vaccine requirement “is not a novel expansion of OSHA’s power; it is an existing application of authority to a novel and dangerous worldwide pandemic.”

She was joined in the majority decision by Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch, an appointee of former President Barrack Obama, a Democrat.

The case was consolidated in the 6th circuit, which is dominated by Republican-appointed judges. Earlier this week, the circuit’s active judges rejected a move to have the entire panel consider the case, on an 8-8 vote.

The dissent in Friday’s ruling came from Judge Joan Larsen, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, who said Congress did not authorize OSHA to make this sort of rule and that it did not qualify as a necessity to use the emergency procedures the agency followed to put it in place.

Larsen also argued that vaccinated workers “do not face ‘grave danger’ from working with those who are not vaccinated.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said she would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block the order. At least two conservative advocacy groups said they had already appealed to the nation’s highest court.

“The Sixth Circuit’s decision is extremely disappointing for Arkansans because it will force them to get the shot or lose their jobs,” Rutledge said.

See here, here, and here for the background. Who even knew that it was possible to get a decent result from an appeals court? It appears the Sixth Circuit, or at least the two justices in the majority opinion, were perhaps not all that impressed by the ruling handed down by their Fifth Circuit colleagues.

Spicy. As noted, in the story, the death eaters among the Attorneys General, including our own, will be appealing to SCOTUS, so keep a firm grip on your expectations. For now at least, there’s a bit of sanity. Happy holidays and all that. Slate has more.

Biden tries again on the employer vaccine mandate

Different appeals court this time.

The Biden administration is asking the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals to wipe away an order from another appeals court blocking its Occupational Safety and Health Administration vaccine mandate.

Several lawsuits were brought challenging the OSHA mandate, and last week the cases were consolidated in the 6th Circuit, an appeals court that leans right, as 10 of its 16 active judges are Republican appointees.

But, before the cases were consolidated, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals — perhaps the most conservative appeals court in the country — issued its order blocking the mandate.

In its filing overnight Tuesday, the Biden administration said the 5th Circuit erred in how its interpretation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act limited the law’s reach, while also arguing that the 5th Circuit had not taken into proper account the public health interest in letting the mandate go into effect.

“Simply put, delaying the Standard would likely cost many lives per day, in addition to large numbers of hospitalizations, other serious health effects, and tremendous expenses,” the administration said in the new filing. “That is a confluence of harms of the highest order.”

[…]

The administration told the 6th Circuit that if it does not lift the order blocking the mandate, it should at least modify the 5th Circuit order “so that the masking-and-testing requirement can remain in effect during the pendency of this litigation.”

See here for the previous update. The 6th Circuit is also pretty damn “conservative”, but it’s at least another shot. I have no idea what to expect, though I figure it’s best to not get one’s hopes up. I do hope they don’t take too long. Bloomberg Law has more.

Fifth Circuit extends hold on Biden employer vaccine mandate

The worst court in America keeps on keeping on.

A federal appeals court kept its block on the implementation on the Biden administration rule that requires large companies to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees or carry out weekly testing starting in January. The rule, which the court characterized as a “mandate,” goes “staggeringly overboard” and “grossly exceeds [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s] statutory authority,” Judge Kurt Engelhardt wrote in the 22-page ruling that was joined by Judges Edith H. Jones and Stuart Kyle Duncan.

The three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, issued the ruling saying that the challenges to the rule were likely to be successful so it further prevented the government form moving forward with its implementation. The Fifth Circuit is largely considered one of the country’s most conservative appeals courts and the panel is made up of one judge appointed by President Ronald Reagan and two others appointed by President Donald Trump.

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed in numerous appeals courts against the rule by businesses, religious organizations, and states. Engelhardt said those who opposed the measure, including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, had standing to sue in the Fifth Circuit. “Rather than a delicately handled scalpel, the mandate is a one-size fits-all sledgehammer,” reads the ruling. The judges said the rule imposes a financial burden and could amount to a violation of the Constitution’s commerce clause. “The Mandate imposes a financial burden upon them by deputizing their participation in OSHA’s regulatory scheme, exposes them to severe financial risk if they refuse or fail to comply, and threatens to decimate their workforces (and business prospects) by forcing unwilling employees to take their shots, take their tests, or hit the road,” the judge wrote.

See here and here for the background. The Fifth Circuit never disappoints, do they? Completely predictable, regardless of the facts.

One small bit of potentially good news.

The ruling by the panel of the Fifth Circuit is unlikely to be the final word. Some challenges to the mandate are in other circuits, and the cases will be consolidated before a randomly chosen one of those jurisdictions. The Supreme Court is expected to eventually decide the matter.

Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the Biden administration would defend the mandate through that process.

Maybe we can hope for a better outcome from a less corrupted court. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this:

Further developments soon, we hope. CNBC and Reuters have more.

We wait on the Fifth Circuit

They have received briefs and held a hearing about whether to keep or lift their hold on the Biden COVID vaccine mandate for employers.

A coalition of businesses argued in federal court Tuesday that they would suffer “irreparable harm” if the court fails to permanently halt the Biden administration’s Covid-19 vaccine-or-test mandate for large businesses as the legal challenges make their way through the courts.

Several staffing companies, religious employers and other businesses said in a court filing that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals should permanently block the standard “to protect Americans from being coerced to comply with the unconstitutional vaccine mandate during the pendency of this litigation,” after the court issued a temporary stay last weekend.

The Fifth Circuit challenge, led by Texas, is just one of at least a dozen lawsuits filed against the mandate by mostly Republican governors, conservative organizations and business groups, who say the mandate is an unconstitutional overreach of power by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Comparing the vaccine-or-test mandate to the Biden administration’s eviction moratorium, business groups suing over the vaccine rule pointed to the Supreme Court’s decision in August to knock down the eviction ban. Then, the high court found in the case of the eviction moratorium, that “our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends” and that Congress must specifically authorize such policies.

“Just a few months ago, the Supreme Court explained that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could not unilaterally grant itself control of the nation’s housing market,” the business groups wrote in a Tuesday court filing. “Sweeping authority must come, if at all, from Congress.”

The emergency rules released by the Department of Labor last week require private businesses with more than 100 employees to ensure their workers are vaccinated or have them submit to weekly testing by Jan. 4.

The Biden administration said in a court filing Monday that the mandate was well within OSHA’s authority and that a permanent stay “would likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day.”

Attorneys for OSHA and the Labor Department told a panel of judges for the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit Monday that the legal argument lodged by states and businesses conflicts with earlier court rulings and federal law, and is unlikely to succeed.

They also said businesses and states challenging the rule don’t have the grounds for “emergency” relief because the effects of the mandate won’t be in place for another month.

See here for the background. I find it best for my sanity to always expect the worst from the Fifth Circuit, so I’m just going to take some deep breaths and try to think about other things. You night appreciate this Twitter thread from Raffi Melkonian about the arguments some of the companies that oppose the Biden mandate are making, and this Twitter thread from Karen Vladeck about the procedural aspects of this case. I’ll have more when the court says something.

The employer vaccine mandate is here (and on hold)

Here are the details.

Deadline is Jan. 4: The first rule, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, covers companies with 100 or more employees, applying to an estimated 84 million workers. Companies must ensure that their workers are either fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or that they test negative for COVID-19 at least once a week. The rule will take effect as soon as it’s published in the Federal Register.

Workers must get paid time off to get vaccinated: Under the OSHA rule, employers must pay workers for the time it takes to get vaccinated and provide sick leave for workers to recover from any side effects.

Employers don’t need to pay for testing: In a move that appears designed to push workers to choose vaccinations over testing, the rule does not require employers to pay for or provide testing to workers who decline the vaccine. However, collective bargaining agreements or other circumstances may dictate otherwise.

Unvaccinated people must wear masks: Unvaccinated workers must also wear face coverings while on the job.

Health care workers don’t have testing option under separate rule: A second rule issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services requires some 17 million health care workers to be vaccinated by the same deadline, Jan. 4, but with no option for weekly testing in lieu of vaccination. The rule covers all employees — clinical and non-clinical — at about 76,000 health care facilities that receive federal funding from Medicare or Medicaid.

Earlier, Biden had ordered federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated, with no testing option. Federal workers have until Nov. 22 to get the shots, while federal contractors have until Jan. 4.

[…]

In the case of the OSHA rule, enforcement will largely fall to companies themselves. With only a couple thousand state and federal OSHA inspectors nationwide, there is no mechanism for checking up on millions of workplaces to see whether they are in fact keeping vaccination and testing records.

Rather, OSHA inspectors will mostly respond to employee complaints and add COVID-related inspections to their to-do lists when they are already on-site somewhere. Employers who violate the rule can face fines of up to $13,653 per violation for serious violations and 10 times that for willful or repeated violations.

The company I work for will fall under this mandate. They have been waiting for the official rules before saying what the company policy will be, so I expect to see a communication about that soon. I have a co-worker who is Not Happy about this. I’m sure you can guess how I feel.

How will it affect Texas?

The White House said the new rules preempt any state and local laws, weakening Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on COVID-19 vaccine mandates, employment lawyers said.

Abbott issued an executive order last month banning any entity in Texas, including private businesses, from requiring anyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The new Biden administration rule would void part of the ban, but it would still apply to everyone else in the state, including local governments, school districts and smaller businesses.

[…]

The conflicting vaccine mandates put the many Texas businesses that receive federal contracts in a tough position: Comply with federal law and violate Abbott’s ban, or comply with Abbott and turn down business from the federal government.

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines said they would continue requiring employee vaccinations despite Abbott’s new order.

See here, here, and here for some background. As the story notes, the state of Texas has filed a lawsuit against the national mandate for federal contractors, which has not yet had a court date. A day after the updated OSHA rules came out for employers, Texas filed another lawsuit, because of course they did.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration on Friday over new federal COVID-19 vaccine rules announced the day before, which order big businesses to mandate vaccination against the virus among their employees by Jan. 4 or require regular testing.

The new federal rules preempt state and local laws, including part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide ban on vaccine mandates.

“The Biden Administration’s new vaccine mandate on private businesses is a breathtaking abuse of federal power,” Paxton said in a written statement Friday.

The U.S. Labor Department, which drafted one of the rules, “has only limited power and specific responsibilities,” Paxton said. “This latest move goes way outside those bounds. This ‘standard’ is flatly unconstitutional. Bottom line: Biden’s new mandate is bad policy and bad law, and I’m asking the Court to strike it down.”

Obviously, I’m not going to take Ken Paxton’s word on that. Texas is not the only state suing over this order, and a little searching led me to this AP story about the other lawsuits, which has some prognostication on the suits’ viability.

Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and director of the World Health Organization’s center on health law, said the half-century-old law that created OSHA gives it the power to set minimum workplace safety measures.

“I think that Biden is on rock-solid legal ground,” he said.

Critics have taken aim at some aspects of the requirement, including that it was adopted as an emergency measure rather than after the agency’s regular rule-making process.

“This is a real emergency,” said Gostin, who has spoken with the Biden administration about the requirement. “In fact, it’s a national crisis. Any delay would cause thousands of deaths.”

[…]

So far, courts have allowed businesses on their own to require employees to be vaccinated. But Michael Elkins, a Florida-based employment lawyer, said those decisions do not necessarily mean judges will rule the same way when it comes to the federal government’s requirement.

“You may see a federal judge, or a bunch of them, say, ‘This is just overreach,’” Elkins said.

Benjamin Noren, a New York-based labor lawyer, said he thought the rule is likely to be struck down because OSHA was intended to deal with workplace hazards such as chemicals, not a virus. He said OSHA has made 10 emergency rules in the last five decades. Of the six that were challenged, only one survived intact.

“It’s an innovative use by the Biden administration to figure out some way to mandate vaccination in the private sector,” Noren said. “I hope it works. I have doubts.”

We didn’t have to wait long to find out. I started this draft on Friday morning when the story was just the OSHA announcement. By the time I finished the initial draft, the lawsuits were announced, so I added that on. Somehow, I figured there wouldn’t be any more news until the next week, so I waited to publish on Sunday just to spread things out a bit. That turned out to be a poor decision.

A U.S. federal appeals court issued a stay Saturday freezing the Biden administration’s efforts to require workers at U.S. companies with at least 100 employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested weekly, citing “grave statutory and constitutional” issues with the rule.

The ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit comes after numerous Republican-led states filed legal challenges against the new rule, which is set to take effect on Jan 4.

In a statement, Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said the Labor Department was “confident in its legal authority” to issue the rule, which will be enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

“The Occupational Safety and Health Act explicitly gives OSHA the authority to act quickly in an emergency where the agency finds that workers are subjected to a grave danger and a new standard is necessary to protect them,” she said. “We are fully prepared to defend this standard in court.”

A copy of the order is here. If you’re thinking it doesn’t say much and stands in stark contrast to the court’s actions on SB8, you’re not alone.

If we ever get around to expanding the Supreme Court, could we maybe give some thought to doing the same to the Fifth Circuit? Because there are some trash judges on that court, and something needs to be done to restore some sense of justice there. The Biden administration has until Monday at 5 PM to file its response, so look for more updates soon. I won’t sit on any of them. WFAA has more.

Of course Texas sues over federal vaccination mandates

On brand. Always on brand.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, on behalf of the state, sued the Biden administration on Friday over its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal contractors.

The federal requirement, which is set to take effect Dec. 8, calls on all federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Texas lawsuit comes after similar suits filed by Florida and Georgia, along with several other states.

“The Biden Administration has repeatedly expressed its disdain for Americans who choose not to get a vaccine, and it has committed repeated and abusive federal overreach to force upon Americans something they do not want,” Paxton said in a statement. “The federal government does not have the ability to strip individuals of their choice to get a vaccine or not. If the President thinks his patience is wearing thin, he is clearly underestimating the lack of patience from Texans whose rights he is infringing.”

Paxton and fellow Republican Gov. Greg Abbott have been at war with local and federal officials over vaccinate mandates. Earlier this month, Abbott expanded an executive order to block the requirement for any entity in Texas, including health care facilities and private businesses. He previously banned cities, counties, school districts and state agencies from requiring vaccines. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has tweeted that vaccination “should never be forced on anyone by the state or a private employer.”

The lawsuit alleges the Biden administration acted unconstitutionally in drafting the vaccine mandate policy. It also argues that the administration required congressional approval to enforce it.

[…]

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday declined to block Maine’s vaccine mandate, though that request came from a group of health care workers who argued their religious liberty rights had been violated because the mandate did not allow for a religious exemption. The highest court has also rejected challenges to vaccine mandates at Indiana University and in a New York City school system.

I took a quick look around Twitter at the national and constitutional lawyers that I follow who often weigh in on this sort of thing, and as of Saturday night none of them had said anything about this. Maybe they all have better things to do with their time, and maybe they think this isn’t worth commenting on. I don’t know. But my sense is that this is mostly a for-show lawsuit, to impress the ravening hordes, and is unlikely to get anywhere. I could be wrong. The one thing I will note is that there are already a lot of employer mandates out there, and they are both getting people vaccinated and making more people comfortable with the idea. So whatever does happen, it may not matter all that much anyway.

Caught between a mandate and a madman

I have sympathy for the schools.

Many Texas universities — which collectively hold billions of dollars in federal contracts — are wrestling with how to navigate the Biden administration’s mandate that all federal contractors be vaccinated by Dec. 8 in a state that bans vaccine mandates.

While more public universities across the country are announcing that all employees must be vaccinated to comply with the federal requirement, several Texas public universities — all managed by Gov. Greg Abbott appointees — told The Texas Tribune they are still evaluating the executive order, which applies to new federal contracts of $250,000 or greater and awarded as of Nov. 14 or existing contracts that have been renewed as of Oct. 15.

“This is unprecedented,” said Michael LeRoy, a labor law expert at the University of Illinois College of Law. “There have been conflicts between the state and federal government, but not at this magnitude with this kind of money on the line.”

LeRoy believes the issue will be resolved in the courts because of the two conflicting issues at the center. State universities receive funding from the state and federal level but they are run by a board of regents appointed by the Texas governor.

While LeRoy said it’s unlikely the federal government will immediately terminate a grant if universities don’t comply, he said a university’s actions could impact future bids for federal grants. The federal government could begin to give notice to rescind a grant, he speculated, but that is a lengthy process. For now, universities are awaiting guidance from their own lawyers.

“… [T]he White House has been clear that noncompliance will not be excused, even in situations where state law contradicts the federal directive,” University of Houston spokesperson Shawn Lindsey told the Tribune in a statement. “It’s an extremely complicated situation that requires further analysis.”

Texas Tech University is working with its lawyers to determine if there are contracts that would trigger the vaccination requirement, school officials said in a statement. Texas Tech is also requesting guidance from the Texas attorney general’s office.

A Texas A&M University System spokesperson said they are also still evaluating the order. The A&M system has about 500 contracts with the federal government worth $2 billion, most of which are tied to the flagship university in College Station.

A statement from the University of Texas System revealed how universities are trying to appease both federal and state leaders.

“We will endeavor to comply with federal vaccine requirements for specific, covered individuals to protect these investments in our state,” spokesperson Karen Adler said in a statement. She then went on to say the system would provide exemptions for those with religious beliefs and “we will make every effort to accommodate employees’ personal situations.”

I think we can all guess what the AG’s office will say to Texas Tech, but the ritual must be observed. We’re all awaiting final guidance from OSHA, which is writing the rule that will implement that executive order. After that is when the lawsuits will fly. Not much else to say at this point, other than I do not envy any of these university officials the task they have before them.

The Lege may fail to enshrine Abbott’s max anti-vaxx order into law

One bit of good news.

Legislation intended to block any Texas entity, including hospitals and private businesses, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees has stalled out in the Senate with less than two days left in the third special legislative session this year.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said he opposes the bill, which makes entities requiring the vaccines vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits. Seliger said the legislation — added to the session agenda as a late priority by Gov. Greg Abbott — does not have the votes to pass in the upper chamber.

“At the moment it’s not too well developed,” Seliger said of Senate Bill 51, authored by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Tyler, calling it “anti-business.”

“I’ve got some real reservations because I think it’s another example of big government,” Seliger said. “And we don’t do that.”

SB 51 has been on the Senate’s calendar since Thursday, but the chamber has not taken action, even as it passed other priority legislation.

The special session is scheduled to end Tuesday, and the vaccine legislation is one of only a few outstanding Abbott priorities that appears unlikely to get through the finish line.

“It’s dead,” state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said of SB 51.

[…]

More than two dozen medical and business advocacy groups quickly criticized SB 51, pushing back against the legislation in the days after it was introduced last week. Hughes filed the bill after Abbott asked lawmakers last week to take up this issue to ensure Texans aren’t required to get vaccinated, saying that vaccines are “safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced.”

Abbott called for the legislation as he took executive action to ban private companies from requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which will be in effect statewide even if lawmakers don’t act. His order came four weeks after Democratic President Joe Biden announced that federal contractors must have all employees vaccinated against COVID-19 and that businesses with more than 100 employees must mandate vaccination against the virus or require regular testing.

The organizations opposing the bill, including several chambers of commerce, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Hospital Association, the Texas Association of Manufacturers, the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association and the Texas Trucking Association, have warned lawmakers of the legislation’s risks to small businesses, workplaces that rely on federal funding and immunocompromised Texans.

The warnings were notable in a state where business interests work closely with pro-business Republicans to influence legislation.

“We’re getting tremendous amount of communications from the business community saying this is their job,” Seliger said. “They set the rules and working conditions in their places of business.”

See here and here for some background. From the jump there were stories of strong opposition from business groups, who are normally very friendly to Republicans, to this bill. Given that the session ends today, I’d say the odds that this bill dies with it are pretty good. But I don’t want to get too overconfident, because it is entirely possible that enough objectionable pieces of that bill could get filed off, and it would be at the top of the agenda for a fourth session, whether or not one is needed. So count this as a provisional win, and hope for the best from here.

More on the Abbott max anti-vaxx order

Businesses will face a choice that they would rather not have to face.

Companies doing business in Texas face new and complicated challenges after Gov. Greg Abbott this week banned COVID-19 vaccine mandates for all entities in the state — including private businesses — for employees or customers.

The ramifications for businesses could begin as soon as Friday, when companies that enter into contract work with the federal government will be required to have all employees vaccinated under orders from the White House.

This conflicts with Abbott’s ban on vaccine mandates, putting the many Texas businesses that receive federal contracts in a tough position: Comply with federal law and violate Abbott’s ban, or comply with Abbott and turn down business from the federal government.

[…]

“This harms Texans directly,” Karen Vladeck, an employment lawyer in Austin, said of the new order from Abbott. “I just think it wasn’t well thought out.”

Abbott’s office did not reply to a request for comment.

On top of prohibiting any entity in Texas from requiring vaccinations, Abbott’s order also lists several expanded exemptions. Vladeck and other employment lawyers said that this adds to the vaccine dilemma facing businesses in Texas. Under Abbott’s new rule, people may opt out of a vaccine requirement for medical reasons, including if they prove they have had COVID-19 in the past, despite scientists widely agreeing that this does not protect people against contracting the virus.

“The executive order’s medical reason language is a bit strange because usually you exempt people for medical reasons if they have a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine,” said Elizabeth Sepper, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Abbott’s order is “meant to cover people who don’t want to get the vaccine because they believe, quite wrongly, that they’re completely protected by already having COVID.”

Abbott’s rule also allows people to opt out of a vaccine requirement if they prove they hold a deep personal belief against getting jabbed.

Any entity that fails to comply with Abbott’s rule could receive up to a $1,000 fine.

Abbott’s Monday order is a reversal from his position in August, when the Pfizer vaccine received final approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At the time, Abbott’s spokesperson said that businesses had the option of mandating vaccination for employees and “private businesses don’t need government running their business.”

“It’s all about company choice in Texas, except now it’s come to something that they don’t like what the companies are choosing,” Vladeck said. “It puts a big burden on employers.”

See here for the background. So far, businesses that are also federal contractors, including airlines and companies like IBM, will ignore Abbott’s order, while others are awaiting the OSHA rules before making a decision. Multiple business groups, the same organizations that often turn to the state for a legislative solution to local ordinances they don’t like, harshly criticized Abbott’s order for making their lives more difficult. Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee released a statement encouraging businesses that want to be able to get their employees vaccinated to file a lawsuit against Abbott over the order. And in the end, even wingnut talk radio hosts weren’t impressed by Abbott’s order. It’s almost as if he were a weak, gutless leader.

Now that’s a vaccine mandate

Good.

President Joe Biden on Thursday imposed stringent new vaccine rules on federal workers, large employers and health care staff in a sweeping attempt to contain the latest surge of Covid-19.

The new requirements could apply to as many as 100 million Americans — close to two-thirds of the American workforce — and amount to Biden’s strongest push yet to require vaccines for much of the country.

“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” Biden said, his tone hardening toward Americans who still refuse to receive a vaccine despite ample evidence of their safety and full approval of one — the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine — from the US Food and Drug Administration.

He said vaccinated America was growing “frustrated” with the 80 million people who have not received shots and are fueling the spread of the virus. And he acknowledged the new steps would not provide a quick fix.

“While America is in much better shape than it was seven months ago when I took office, I need to tell you a second fact: We’re in a tough stretch and it could last for awhile,” Biden said in an early evening speech from the White House.

At the center of Biden’s new plan is directing the Labor Department to require all businesses with 100 or more employees ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week, an expansive step the President took after consultation with administration health officials and lawyers. Companies could face thousands of dollars in fines per employee if they don’t comply.

Biden also signed an executive order requiring all government employees be vaccinated against Covid-19, with no option of being regularly tested to opt out. The President signed an accompanying order directing the same standard be applied to employees of contractors who do business with the federal government.

He also said 300,000 educators in federal Head Start programs must be vaccinated and called on governors to require vaccinations for schoolteachers and staff.

And Biden announced he would require the 17 million health care workers at facilities receiving funds from Medicare and Medicaid to be fully vaccinated, expanding the mandate to hospitals, home care facilities and dialysis centers around the country.

“We have the tools to combat the virus if we come together to use those tools,” Biden said at the outset of what was billed as a major speech to tackle the latest phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.

I mean, I’d have ordered the FAA to issue a vaccine mandate for getting on an airplane as well while I was at it, but maybe that’s still to come. To the extent that this is allowed, and based on a lot of public polling, this will move the needle significantly in the vaccination rates. Still won’t get us to 100%, but it will get us a lot closer. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth and lawsuits – you can already hear Greg Abbott caterwauling – but it is going to have an effect. (And by the way, none of this would have been necessary if it hadn’t been for the likes of Greg Abbott.)

I have no idea what the legal status is of any of this. I’ve seen a few people I trust on Twitter suggest that the President has the authority to impose this kind of rule on large businesses in the name of public safety, especially via his emergency powers, but for sure there will be a broad array of opinion on that. Most of the rest of us are at most barely aware than it’s the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that will be doing the work on this, or that it will take some time for the rule to be developed. But as you can see, it has already had an effect:

The more you know…The Trib and the Chron have more.