Supreme Court Won’t Block Indiana University’s Vaccine Mandate
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed Indiana University to require students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Eight students had sued the university, claiming the requirement violated their constitutional rights to “bodily integrity, autonomy and medical choice.” But they conceded that exemptions from the requirement – for religious, ethical and medical reasons – “virtually guaranteed” that anyone who applied for an exemption would receive one.
Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who oversees the federal appeals court in question, dismissed the student’s request for emergency relief without comment. She acted alone, without referring the claim to the full court, which indicated that the claim was not on a solid legal basis.
A trial judge had refused to block the requirement, and a three-judge unanimous panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago refused to issue an injunction while the appeal of the students advanced.
“Each university can decide what is necessary to ensure the safety of other students in a collective setting,” Judge Frank H. Easterbrook wrote for the court of appeal. “Health exams and vaccinations against other diseases (measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, chickenpox, meningitis, influenza, etc.) are common higher education requirements. Vaccination protects not only those who have been vaccinated but also those who come into contact with them, and in a university close contact is inevitable.
Justice Easterbrook, who was appointed to the Court of Appeal by President Ronald Reagan, relied on a 1905 Supreme Court decision, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which ruled that states can require all members of the public to be vaccinated against smallpox or pay a fine.
The smallpox vaccination requirement allowed no exceptions, Judge Easterbrook wrote, while the Indiana University requirement provided accommodations for students with religious and other objections. (Exempt students must wear masks and pass frequent coronavirus testing, requirements Justice Easterbrook said “are not constitutionally problematic.”)
The university had the right to set conditions for participation, he wrote, just as it can demand payment of tuition fees and ask students “to read what a professor gives them.”
“People who don’t want to be vaccinated can go elsewhere,” Judge Easterbrook wrote, noting that many universities do not require vaccination. “Complainants have many educational opportunities. “
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