A federal judge ruled that Oklahoma National Guard members must get vaccinated against Covid-19, denying an attempt by the state's Republican governor to halt the Defense Department’s vaccination mandate.
In his ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot rejected Gov. Kevin Stitt's argument that the Pentagon overstepped its authority when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a military-wide vaccination mandate to fight the coronavirus.
“First, adding a tenth FDA-approved 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,” Friot wrote in his 29-page ruling.
“And, to say no more on this point, there is nothing ‘transformative’ about a force protection measure first conceived and enforced by General George Washington when he required members of the Continental Army to be inoculated against smallpox,” he said.
Friot noted that the National Guard, which is generally overseen by governors, has historically been included in military-wide vaccination mandates.
Stitt's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ruling deals a blow to efforts by GOP officials who have pushed back against the Biden administration's vaccination requirements. President Joe Biden's mandates for both the private and the public sectors have faced numerous legal challenges; the Supreme Court said last week that it would take up two of those cases.
Austin, who issued his vaccination order for all service members on Aug. 24, directed the secretaries of the military services to set their own implementation guidance and timelines. The mandate extended to all service members on active duty or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard, which has more than 400,000 members.
Stitt called on Austin last month to rescind the mandate for members of the Oklahoma National Guard. He then appointed a new adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard, who said he would not enforce the mandate. The Republican governors of Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, Texas and Wyoming also objected to the mandate this month.
Friot urged the Pentagon to give members of the Oklahoma National Guard a "grace period" regarding the mandate.
“The court strongly urges the defendants to give every consideration to providing a brief grace period — to facilitate prompt compliance with the vaccination mandate — before directly or indirectly taking action which would end the military careers of any Oklahoma Guard members,” he said.
The Oklahoma National Guard has about 8,000 members, who face a June deadline to comply with the mandate.