Elections 2022GOP Texas Attorney General Candidates Take Stances on Private Vaccine Mandates

Here's where the Republican candidates for Texas attorney general stand with respect to private businesses mandating vaccinations.
October 26, 2021
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For the past year and a half, government responses to the coronavirus pandemic have dominated debates in the political world time and again.

With the Biden administration regulating some mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations and a growing push for the Texas legislature to prohibit private vaccine mandates, the issue could be a sticking point throughout the upcoming primary campaigns, especially among Republicans.

While many of the high-profile GOP gubernatorial candidates have been outspoken about the need to ban vaccine mandates, another statewide office with a competitive primary plays a pivotal role in the matter: the Attorney General of Texas, the top attorney who represents the state.

Like some of the prominent conservative voices in the Lone Star State who have diverging views on private vaccine mandates, the GOP candidates running to be the head of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) also have nuanced perspectives on the issue.

State Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) and Land Commissioner George P. Bush both say that private entities should not force COVID-19 vaccinations on individuals.

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Krause and Bush both said that they would want Texas to lead the legal charge against the Biden administration’s efforts, rather than simply signing onto a coalition letter along with a host of other states as Attorney General Ken Paxton has done.

Where those two candidates differ the most is in regards to Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting the practice. While Bush said that he would enforce Abbott’s order and any potential law, Krause said he would “defend and enforce any valid law” but would prefer to see legislation approved.

Krause acknowledged the constitutional criticisms of the Texas Disaster Act, the basis of Abbott’s many COVID-19 executive orders including those to shut down businesses and prohibit private vaccine mandates, and said that he supports a fourth special session to pass legislation such as a bill from Rep. Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian) that he co-authored which would ban private vaccine mandates.

Similar legislation, though, was stalled amid opposition from business groups, such as Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

The general counsel for the organization sent a letter to lawmakers saying that the would-be dueling measures from the Texas Legislature and the Biden administration would create uncertainty that “is disruptive to a positive economic environment.”

Another attorney general candidate, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, was endorsed by the influential Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC and has not taken a solid stance on the issue, saying that “there are competing interests that the Legislature — and only the Legislature — can consider and address.”

Though passing the buck to lawmakers, Guzman noted that she believes “the COVID-19 vaccine is our best defense against serious illness” but also that “our public policies should balance public health with personal choice.”

She also pointed out that the Supreme Court of Texas — of which she was a part — gave tepid approval to Abbott’s coronavirus executive orders and that she would “presume the legality” of his current one and defend it in court if challenged. However, Guzman says that the enforcement of it rests with local prosecutors and not the attorney general.

For his part, incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton and his campaign did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. Comments received on November 2, 2021 have been added below.

Paxton signed a letter with several other attorneys general threatening the Biden administration with legal challenges should the president move forward with the requirements for private businesses to mandate employee vaccination.

He says that he has not filed any suits against the administration on the matter yet since the administration has not finalized any official measures on it, saying, “No good lawyer would file a lawsuit against something they have not read.”

It is unclear what steps, if any, Paxton has taken to ensure businesses are following the governor’s executive order.

Full responses from the four Republican candidates for attorney general are listed below.

Bush Response:

Do you support a regulation on private businesses to prohibit them from mandating COVID-19 vaccines as a condition for employment? Why or why not?

Individuals in Texas have a right to decide whether they should be vaccinated or not. No private entity should be able to force anyone to make a legal decision about their medical care. Further, our police officers, border patrol agents and first responders should not, in any way, lose their jobs if they decide against vaccinations.

Do you believe the governor has the legal authority to issue an executive order prohibiting businesses from issuing a vaccine mandate? Would you enforce Gov. Abbott’s order or any similar potential law approved by the legislature prohibiting such mandates?

As Attorney General, I would enforce Governor Abbott’s executive order and any potential law regarding vaccination passed by the legislature. The legal authority is clear.

Would you pursue litigation against the Biden administration for the policies he is pursuing to require companies to mandate vaccines?

Absolutely. President Biden’s overreaching mandate would be met with the full force of the Attorney General’s office. Texans cannot be forced to receive medical treatment. As President Biden sits backs and mocks those choosing to take in all the information before making their own health decision, I believe the Attorney General should be doing more to stand up for Texans’ rights.

How well do you think Attorney General Ken Paxton has handled the issue? What would you do differently?

Ken Paxton has routinely shown that he is too distracted by his personal legal issues to stand up to the federal government effectively. As Attorney General, I would take further action, leading the nation in pushing back against this mandate and standing in strong support of Abbott’s executive order, rather than just signing onto another state’s coalition.

Guzman Response:

Do you support a regulation on private businesses to prohibit them from mandating COVID-19 vaccines as a condition for employment? Why or why not?

Would you enforce Gov. Abbott’s order or any similar potential law approved by the legislature prohibiting such mandates?

It’s important to remember the appropriate roles our government plays on an issue such as this. The Legislature—not the attorney general—determines the public policies and laws of the state, and it’s the attorney general’s role to defend those laws. In regard to compelling or restricting vaccinations, there are competing interests that the Legislature—and only the Legislature—can consider and address.

As AG, I would not usurp the Legislature’s prerogative to balance the competing interests. But as AG, I will have a clear philosophy when it comes to defending the law. First, I will defer to the will of the Legislature and the actions of state officials. Statutes passed by the people’s representatives and actions taken by state officials will be presumed constitutional and I will defend them in court as AG. Second, as Attorney General, I will comply with my oath to protect and defend the U.S. and Texas constitutions. Therefore, I will not defend statutes or actions that I determine, after careful review, to plainly violate our state or national constitutions.

As to whether I would enforce Governor Abbott’s executive order, it makes failure to comply a crime under Section 418.173 of the Government Code. Therefore, it is enforced by local prosecutors, not the attorney general.

Consistent with the Constitution, Texas makes the vaccine available to all but mandates it for none. Personally, I believe the COVID-19 vaccine is our best defense against serious illness. I’ve done the research and chosen to get vaccinated, and I encourage others to make an informed decision for themselves. Texans value their personal freedoms and their livelihoods, and I believe our public policies should balance public health with personal choice.

Do you believe the governor has the legal authority to issue an executive order prohibiting businesses from issuing a vaccine mandate?

The governor has substantial authority in the face of an emergency affecting the health and safety of Texans. His authority to issue emergency orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been upheld by the Texas Supreme Court. In keeping with proper role of the attorney general, I would presume the legality of Gov. Abbott’s executive order and would defend the order if it were challenged in court.

Would you pursue litigation against the Biden administration for the policies he is pursuing to require companies to mandate vaccines?

Yes. And I would win for Texas. We need to make vaccines available to all Texans, but government should not mandate them. As attorney general, I would protect Texans’ individual liberties and defend against unconstitutional federal government overreach. 

How well do you think Attorney General Ken Paxton has handled the issue? What would you do differently?

Texans deserve an attorney general who will serve with honor and integrity and can focus on the job. An officeholder who is entangled in a reported FBI investigation, is defending himself against a state securities fraud indictment, and is operating under a cloud of scandal cannot run an effective Attorney General’s Office—especially after Paxton’s top-tier officials left the AG’s office because of the cloud of suspicion and scandal surrounding Paxton.

Whether it’s fighting against federal overreach or fighting to uphold our immigration laws, an attorney general who is mired in scandal and personal legal problems lacks credibility and focus.  Texans deserve an attorney general who can devote all her attention and energy to the people’s business. Texans have too much at stake to trust this crucial job to someone who is distracted by serious personal difficulties. I have and will continue to call for Mr. Paxton to resign.

Krause Response:

Do you support a regulation on private businesses to prohibit them from mandating COVID-19 vaccines as a condition for employment? Why or why not?

Yes, I do support a ban on COVID-19 vaccine mandates from private businesses. I certainly understand that private entities should be able to conduct their business without government intervention, and I have authored legislation in the past that to support their autonomy. And, often times, the exceptions prove the rule. This is one such case. In this instance, forcing or coercing employees to take a vaccine is a bridge too far. Incentives, extra testing, etc., can serve the right purpose. But, any requirements for people to take a vaccine that has been shown to have some very negative side effects (especially for certain age groups) should not be used to force an employee from choosing between their personal health and their livelihood. 

Do you believe the governor has the legal authority to issue an executive order prohibiting businesses from issuing a vaccine mandate? Would you enforce Gov. Abbott’s order, or any similar potential law approved by the legislature prohibiting such mandates?

Governor Abbott bases his authority to institute this order under the Disaster Act. An argument could be made that Article 1 Section 28 of the Texas Constitution states that only the legislature has the power to suspend laws. Therefore, the best approach would be to have the legislature pass a law which bans the mandates. A bill such as HB 168 by Rep. Brian Harrison (of which I co-authored) would be an ideal solution to this issue.  We missed an opportunity to pass HB168 during the third-called special session and I would be in favor of going back to Austin for a fourth special session to get this legislation into law. 

I will always defend the rights and liberties of Texans, and fight against overreach from the federal government such as in this case with the vaccine mandates. And would absolutely defend and enforce any valid law that seeks to protect those rights and liberties.

Would you pursue litigation against the Biden administration for the policies he is pursuing to require companies to mandate vaccines?

Absolutely. Texas needs an Attorney General that will fight for the best interests of Texans. Never has the federal government attempted to use OSHA to enforce a vaccine mandate. There is a reason for that – it is blatantly unconstitutional. As Attorney General, I would fight this gross overreach with the full force of the office. If citizens want to be vaccinated against COVID-19 that is their choice to make. But, forcing it upon citizens is a serious overstep of power.

How well do you think Attorney General Ken Paxton has handled the issue? What would you do differently?

While I appreciate the Attorney General’s efforts to join a coalition to challenge the Biden Administration’s order, this is an issue that Texas needs to lead on. Several states fought back before Texas. I am not sure why Texas did not take the lead here. As Attorney General, I will lead the charge in fighting back against the egregious oversteps by the Biden administration. Many states look to Texas for guidance on Conservative values. As Attorney General, I will be the Faithful Conservative Fighter that Texas needs at this moment. 

Paxton Response:

Do you support a regulation on private businesses to prohibit them from mandating COVID-19 vaccines as a condition for employment? Why or why not?

Yes. Large corporations in our country are forcing their employees into an impossible dilemma: get a COVID-19 vaccine or get fired. No one should use ultimatums like this to compel unwanted medical treatment. And with troubling signs in our economy and almost all gains under President Trump lost, I can’t think of anything more foolish than putting people out of a job for not wanting to get a vaccine. All this is wrong and unjust, and it’s why I support laws to stop it.

Do you believe the governor has the legal authority to issue an executive order prohibiting businesses from issuing a vaccine mandate?

Yes. Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Orders—and specifically GA-38, GA-39, and GA-40, each of which concern vaccine mandates—have the “force and effect of law” under the Texas Disaster Act. The legislature empowered the Governor to issue executive orders prohibiting businesses from imposing vaccine mandates. I support that myself, and I’ve successfully defended that authority in court. I will always stand with the Governor in protecting Texans’ rights.

Have you taken any steps to enforce Gov. Abbott’s executive order prohibiting such mandates? If so, can you provide any specific examples?

Yes, many times. Just in the past year, I’ve fought—and won—for the right of Texas small businesses to stay open and operate in the face of local tyrants trying to shut the world down in violation of state law. I’ve fought—and won—for the right of Texans to breathe feely and use their own good judgment in choosing whether to wear masks, despite what democrat local officials would demand. And I’ve fought—and won—for the right of public employees to keep their jobs and avoid being forced to get a vaccine against their will. The list goes on, but the bottom line is this: I have used all the tools at my disposal to defend the rule of law and to keep Texas free.

Have you pursued or do you intend to pursue litigation against the Biden administration for the policies he is pursuing to require companies to mandate vaccines?

Absolutely. In fact, I did sue the Biden Administration for their unlawful dictates trying to compel federal contractors to get a COVID-19 vaccine. (This marks my nearly 20th suit against Biden.) Once again, this president is using deception and the financial leverage of the federal government to compel Texans to choose between their livelihoods and their fundamental constitutional rights. It’s not right. It’s why I sued. And we expect to win. Meanwhile, my team stands ready to strike—quickly, aggressively, and thoroughly—against any further illegal Biden vaccine mandates.

Update: This article was updated on November 2, 2021 with comments from Attorney General Ken Paxton.

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.