Soldiers with the Oklahoma National Guard stand in formation outside the US Capitol Building Jan. 20, 2021. US Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Anthony Jones.
The monthlong cold war over National Guard vaccinations heated up yesterday, as the state of Oklahoma filed suit against the Pentagon in an attempt to avoid the mandate that guardsmen receive a jab.
On Thursday, Dec. 2, the state of Oklahoma and 16 of its Air National Guard members sued President Joe Biden, the secretary of defense, the secretaries of each military service, a number of federal agencies, and the US government. The 16 guard members each said they had personal or religious objections to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.
“This vaccine mandate destabilizes the federal-state balance,” Oklahoma’s filing reads. The filing claims the Pentagon’s mandate “upends the way that federal civil service, not to mention public-health mandates, work under the law; turns upside-down Americans’ lives and work paradigms; and pretends that Congress surrendered its constitutional power to make rules about the military.”
The suit seeks an injunction preventing the government from enforcing the vaccine mandate, as well as enjoining the Department of Defense from withholding any federal funding from the state’s National Guard.
“Forcing individuals to take vaccinations they do not want demeans and degrades them to a sub-human level by stripping them of their free will on a matter essential to their human dignity,” wrote the state, represented by Attorney General John O’Connor.
This lawsuit is the newest move by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt in his efforts to exempt the Oklahoma National Guard from the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
“I promised Oklahomans that we would sue the Biden administration for its unlawful vaccine mandates as soon as the rules were made public, and that is exactly what we’ve done,” he said.
Last month Stitt wrote to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin asking that the state be exempted from the mandate, then fired the guard’s state adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson, who had been a vocal advocate for the vaccine. Stitt replaced Thompson with Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, who immediately declared that the Oklahoma National Guard would not comply with the mandate.
Stitt maintains that he, not the president, is the commander in chief of the Oklahoma National Guard when the guard is under state orders, a status known as Title 32. But Austin rejected that argument this week in a letter to Stitt, citing readiness requirements such as the vaccination mandate that fall under federal purview. Austin also issued a memorandum that put guard members everywhere on notice that those not fully vaccinated by the deadline could no longer train or drill and would not receive federal pay.
The suit uses a number of flowery passages that appear aimed less for the eyes of a judge than at Biden. “Presidents are not potentates with limitless power and a divine mandate to act according to their own will by being accountable only to Heaven,” the suit reads. “The Sun King’s L’état, c’est moi might be a nice, if anachronistic, snippet of history but it is unsuited to being a part of our constitutional mosaic.”
The vaccine mandate deadline for the air guardsmen who are plaintiffs was Dec. 2. Without a temporary injunction by the court, those 16 airmen now face separation from the military.
Oklahoma also filed a second lawsuit yesterday against Biden, among others, contesting the vaccine mandate for federal contractors and large private employers.
Maggie BenZvi is a contributing editor for Coffee or Die. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree in human rights from Columbia University, and has worked for the ACLU as well as the International Rescue Committee. She has also completed a summer journalism program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In addition to her work at Coffee or Die, she’s a stay-at-home mom and, notably, does not drink coffee. Got a tip? Get in touch!
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