As businesses grapple with the tradeoffs of requiring employees and customers to get vaccinated, some Republican officials have decided to take this choice out of their hands. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), for instance, has prohibited both public and private entities from requiring proof of vaccination, creating conflict with several industries—including cruise lines—that would like to mandate vaccines. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) has done the same in his state.
Two Republican state legislators in South Dakota have proposed a similar ban on private vaccine mandates. The COVID-19 Vaccine Freedom of Conscious Act, authored by Reps. Jon Hansen and Scott Odenbach, would effectively stop all businesses from requiring vaccination. But unlike DeSantis and Gianforte, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) is opposing the ban on private vaccine passports on grounds that the government does not and should not have the right to bully businesses.
"I don't have the authority as governor to tell them what to do," said Noem. "Since the start of this pandemic, I have remained focused on what my authorities are and what they are not. Now South Dakota is in a strong position because I didn't overstep my authority. I didn't trample on the rights of our people, and I'm not going to start now."
The Truth on where I stand… pic.twitter.com/ZB2gkqijlM
— Governor Kristi Noem (@govkristinoem) August 24, 2021
Noem's stance will probably attract derision from some on the vaccine-skeptical populist right; indeed, Noem has a history of being painted as insufficiently conservative because she was unwilling to use state power to enforce a conservative cultural agenda when she thought it wouldn't hold up in court. But the governor is absolutely right to stick to her guns here—and in fact, it's the Republican officials racing to prohibit private vaccine mandates who are violating clear-cut conservative principles.
Noem explained this quite aptly in a brief speech outlining her position.
"When leaders overstep their authority, that is how we break this country, and if government starts acting unconstitutionally, even if it's doing something that we like, that's a dangerous path to walk down," she said. "It is not conservative to grow government and to tell businesses what to do and how to treat their employees."
Noem also noted that South Dakota was the only state to never order a church to close due to the pandemic. Her stance is consistent and consistently conservative: It is wrong for the government to tell individuals, private associations, and businesses what to do. If they want to require vaccination, it's really no concern of the state.
The rise of Trump-era conservative populism (which has more disdain for economic and social libertarianism than the GOP of yesteryears), and the pandemic (which has allowed the state to claim expansive new powers for itself) have both moved the Republican and Democratic parties in a direction of increased hostility toward freedom of association. The Democratic politicians, health officials, liberal activists, and mainstream media figures that comprise "Team Blue" want to require vaccines, masks, and other safety measures, while their enemies on "Team MAGA" generally want to prohibit these same things.
It's increasingly rare for a political figure to loudly proclaim the principled libertarian position, which holds that such restrictions should be neither mandated nor prohibited. Good on Noem for articulating it so clearly.