Federal Judge Rejects Oklahoma Lawsuit Against Vaccine Mandate for National Guard

U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot in Oklahoma ruled Tuesday against the lawsuit from Governor Kevin Stitt and others filed earlier this month in objection to the COVID vaccine mandate for National Guard troops in the state.

Stitt, Attorney General John O'Connor and 16 National Guard members in the state requested a preliminary injunction halting the order, which Friot denied, saying their claims were not sufficient to stop the mandate.

"The vaccine mandate to which the governor objects is the one — in addition to the nine that already apply to all service members — intended to protect service members from the virus which has, in less than two years, killed more Americans than have been killed in action in all of the wars the United States has ever fought," Friot wrote. "The court is required to decide the case on the basis of federal law, not common sense. But, either way, the result would be the same."

When the lawsuit was filed, Stitt released a statement saying Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stepped beyond his constitutional authority by enacting the mandate for the National Guard.

Austin decided that those who do not get a vaccine would not be allowed to participate in federally funded drills and other training required to keep their status as a member of the National Guard.

He said the COVID vaccines, like many others the military already requires, are the key to making sure the U.S. has a healthy force of troops that are ready to defend the country.

Oklahoma National Guard, COVID Vaccine Mandate Lawsuit
Members of the Oklahoma National Guard are on standby ahead of a campaign rally for a U.S. President Donald Trump at the BOK Center, June 20, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A federal judge ruled Tuesday against a lawsuit from Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and others challenging the Pentagon's vaccine requirement for National Guard troops in the state. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Stitt and O'Connor have been outspoken critics of vaccine mandates and have filed numerous lawsuits challenging federal mandates. Telephone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment on the ruling from the offices of Stitt and O'Connor weren't immediately returned.

A spokesman for the Oklahoma National Guard declined to comment while litigation is pending.

The White House and health officials have credited coronavirus vaccine mandates with driving up vaccination rates and curbing deaths from COVD-19.

About a week after the lawsuit was filed, the adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard, Brigadier General Thomas Mancino, warned in an open letter to Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard members that refusing to receive the coronavirus vaccine could end their military careers.

Prior to filing a lawsuit, Stitt asked Austin to suspend the mandate for the Oklahoma National Guard and directed his new adjutant general to assure members that they would not be punished for declining the vaccine.

Pentagon officials have repeatedly said Austin has the authority to set medical readiness requirements, including vaccines, for the entire military including the Guard.

In Judge Friot's order, he said state officials indicated that 89 percent of the airmen in the Guard have been vaccinated, while only 40 percent of Army guardsmen have been vaccinated. The deadline for Air National Guard members to be fully vaccinated was December 2, while Army National Guard members have until June 30 to become fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Stitt, who was the nation's first governor to confirm that he got COVID-19, said he doesn't plan to get a booster shot even though state health officials are encouraging vaccinated people to do just that, particularly as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.