Texas top court blocks school district vaccine mandate

Ban on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates by any entity, in Texas
A person receives a vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) following Republican Governor Greg Abbott's ban on COVID-19 vaccine mandates by any entity, including private employers, at Acres Home Multi-Service Center in Houston, Texas, U.S., October 13, 2021. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare
  • Vaccine mandate would have taken effect Friday
  • Texas Supreme Court said it would maintain status quo pending state's appeal

(Reuters) - The Texas Supreme Court has temporarily blocked San Antonio's school district from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees while the state pursues a challenge to the policy.

The court in an unsigned three-page opinion on Thursday said its role was to maintain the status quo as novel issues related to the pandemic make their way through the courts, noting that it had taken the same step earlier this year in a case challenging Republican Governor Greg Abbott's ban on municipalities in the state imposing mask mandates.

The state is appealing a lower court judge's Oct. 1 order refusing to issue a preliminary injunction that would block the school's district mandate pending the outcome of the lawsuit. Thursday's order will remain in effect until the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio rules on the appeal.

The San Antonio Independent School District had argued that its mandate, which was set to take effect Friday, was the status quo and should go into effect because it predated Abbott's August order banning vaccine requirements by public employers.

But the Texas Supreme Court said the governor first asserted his authority to control vaccine mandates in April when he issued an executive order prohibiting public employers from requiring vaccines "administered under an emergency use authorization."

"The status quo between the parties is not local control over vaccine mandates," the court said on Thursday.

The school district and its lawyers at Gonzalez Chiscano Angulo & Kasson did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Nor did Abbott's office.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in August, after which Abbott tweaked his executive order to include vaccines with full sign-off from the agency.

The state then sued to strike down the San Antonio school district's mandate.

The district says Abbott's ban is invalid because a Texas law granting the governor broad powers during emergencies does not extend to control over vaccine requirements. The law only allows the state to prohibit local measures that would prevent or delay action necessary to address a disaster, according to the district.

A state judge in San Antonio earlier this month said the state had failed to show that it was likely to prevail on the issue and faced irreparable harm if the mandate took effect, which are required to win a preliminary injunction.

Abbott on Monday expanded his ban on vaccine mandates to private employers in response to the Biden administration's plans to require companies with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccines.

The case is In Re The State of Texas, Texas Supreme Court, No. 21-0873.

For the state: Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone

For the school district: Jeffrie Lewis of Gonzalez Chiscano Angulo & Kasson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.