Post Authored By: Laura Wibberley
The United States Supreme Court recently denied review of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate that was found to be constitutional by the Seventh Circuit. Indiana University issued a vaccine policy requiring all students, faculty, and staff members to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to returning to campus. Klaassen v. Trustees of Indiana University, No. 21-2326 (August 2, 2021). There were exceptions that could apply, including religious and medical reasons. However, students and faculty members that were exempt were required to wear masks and be tested for COVID-19 two times per week. Eight students filed suit against the University seeking injunctive relief arguing that the vaccine mandate violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court in Indiana denied the student’s motion for a preliminary injection and the students appealed.
The opinion for United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit was authored by Judge Easterbrook finding that the vaccine mandate was lawful. The Court largely relied upon Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905) which held that a state may require members of its population to obtain the smallpox vaccination. The Court highlighted that the Jacobson case sustained a vaccine requirement that did not even have exceptions in place unlike the present vaccine mandate for Indiana University which allowed for medical and religious exemptions. Further, Indiana University did not require each and every individual to be vaccinated against COVID-19 whereas the vaccine requirement in Jacobson strictly required all adults to be vaccinated. Here, the students and faculty at Indiana University who refused to obtain the vaccination were free to attend another university. The Court also reasoned that vaccine mandates are already common in higher university settings, including those against tetanus, varicella, meningitis, among others. The Court overall noted that the vaccine mandate had a legitimate purpose to ensure the safety of the students and staff and prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the campus.
The students appealed to the United States Supreme Court seeking review on whether heightened scrutiny applied to the vaccine mandate in violation of the student’s constitutional rights to bodily integrity and autonomy and medical choice. However, on August 12, 2021, the Honorable Justice Barrett denied the application for review. Thus, Indiana University’s vaccine mandate was allowed to remain in effect.
As a result of these rulings, we can except to see more of these COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Further, on August 23, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the first COVID-19 vaccine. These are both key achievements for public health and will hopefully act to instill greater confidence in the American public to obtain the vaccine and make advancements to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
About the Author:
Laura Wibberley practices in general litigation with a concentration in the area of medical negligence with the privilege of serving in the defense of hospitals, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers. She also serves in the defense of long-term care facilities and assisted living facilities. In order to achieve early and favorable results, Laura is involved in pre-litigation investigations. She has also assisted with presentations at health care facilities designed to educate practitioners on challenges and concerns in the context of litigation. Laura Wibberley graduated Valedictorian and summa cum laude from The John Marshall Law School.