The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday put a temporary hold on San Antonio School District’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate hours before it was set to take effect.
The San Antonio Independent School District mandated that all its employees be vaccinated for COVID-19 by Oct. 15. The mandate, issued on Aug. 16 by then-Superintendent Pedro Martinez, directly challenged Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order initially issued in April that bans COVID-19 vaccine mandates by state-funded entities.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the school district over the order on Aug. 19.
The Supreme Court said in an opinion (pdf) on Thursday it is putting a hold on the enforcement of the vaccine mandate while the legal battle over the matter continues.
The Texas Supreme Court maintained in its opinion that it has not ruled on the legality of the school district’s vaccine mandate or the governor’s vaccine mandate ban.
“This case, like those regarding local governmental entities’ authority to mandate the wearing of masks, challenges the legality of the Governor’s orders under the Texas Disaster Act. We have not yet had the opportunity to consider the merits of these challenges,” said the court in this decision.
The San Antonio Independent School District had clarified on Aug. 20 that it would only mandate vaccines that receive full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA granted such approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Aug. 23, after which the state nonsuited its claims against the school district.
Two days later, Abbott issued a separate order that barred government entities from mandating COVID-19 vaccines regardless of the vaccine’s approval status with the FDA.
Paxton sued the school district for a second time on Sept. 9 (pdf), seeking to secure a temporary injunction against the vaccine mandate. But a district judge from Bexar County, Mary Lou Alvarez, denied the motion on Oct. 1.
The state appealed the ruling to the Texas 4th Court of Appeals. The appeals court denied Paxton’s request to temporarily block the vaccine mandate, after which Paxton asked the Texas Supreme Court to step in. Paxton last week also filed a writ of mandamus asking the Texas Supreme Court to strike down 4th Court of Appeals’ ruling.
The Texas Supreme Court said in its ruling on Thursday, “We grant this relief on our own authority while we consider the state’s petition for writ of mandamus. We express no view on the merits of the state’s claims.”
It added that the decision to halt the vaccine mandate, for now, “is not a comment on the decision of the district court to deny the State’s request for a temporary injunction.”
“We are confident that the court of appeals will expeditiously consider the State’s appeal,” the court also said. “The petition for writ of mandamus remains pending before the Court.”
Alvarez had scheduled a trial date of Jan. 19, 2022, over the lawsuit. The school district’s COVID-19 mandate is not enforceable at least until then.
Paxton celebrated the court’s decision, saying in a statement Thursday, “I am glad to see that the Supreme Court of Texas has again confirmed that the Governor’s decisions control at both the state and local levels.”
He added, “This decision should serve as a reminder to all Texas school districts that they should be using their limited funds on educating children and equipping teachers, not defending unlawful vaccine mandates.”
Separately, Abbott on Oct. 11 issued a wider ban that prohibits any entity, including private employers, from issuing COVID-19 mandates in the state. He also added the issue as an agenda a legislative session in the state to give lawmakers the opportunity to pass a law to similar effect.