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2 Airlines Plan to Defy Greg Abbott’s Ban on Vaccine Mandates in Texas

Southwest Airlines and American Airlines are anticipating a federal rule on vaccines will supersede Abbott’s ban.

A traveler walks past a Southwest Airlines airplane as it taxies from a gate at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on October 11, 2021, in Baltimore, Maryland.

This week, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning public and private entities in the state from issuing vaccine mandates — but two Texas-based airlines are planning to defy that order by requiring their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, both of which are headquartered in Texas, issued statements on Tuesday saying they would not comply with Abbott’s ban. The companies cited an upcoming order by the Biden administration, which would require workers at businesses with 100 employees or more to be vaccinated or present weekly negative COVID tests. Both companies noted that laws established by the White House override state policies.

“Federal action supersedes any state mandate or law, and we would be expected to comply with the President’s Order to remain compliant as a federal contractor,” Southwest said in a statement.

American Airlines said that airline officials believe “the federal vaccine mandate supersedes any conflicting state laws.”

Abbott’s executive order, issued earlier this week, bars any public or private sector entity from imposing rules that workers or customers be vaccinated. If a business defies this order, it could result in a $1,000 fine per violation, Abbott’s decree said.

But if companies plan to defy that order, they may have to litigate the issue in court until the Biden administration’s mandate is passed. At that point, the court would likely rule that the issue is a moot point, since the U.S. Constitution states that federal law, not state law, is the “supreme law of the land.”

President Joe Biden announced that the Labor Department would be rolling out the vaccination mandate for businesses in September, but the rule has not yet been formalized, as OSHA’s rulemaking process has delayed its implementation.

“If we can come together as a country and use those tools, if we raise our vaccination rate, protect ourselves and others with masking, expanded testing, and identify people who are infected, we can and we will turn the tide on COVID-19,” Biden said at the time.

The Biden administration’s mandate would likely increase the vaccination rate in the U.S. Currently, 65 percent of Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. If Biden’s proposal is carried out, some believe that number could increase to 82 percent by the middle of next year.

Although the mandate would likely be challenged in courts, legal experts are largely in agreement that the rule from the White House would ultimately be upheld.

“I think it’s on pretty stable legal ground. The government’s in a strong position here,” said Lance Gable, a law professor at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan, last month.

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