Supreme Court Won’t Block Indiana University’s Vaccine Mandate

Eight students argued that the requirement, which included exemptions for religious and medical reasons, violated their constitutional rights.,

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The Supreme Court won’t block Indiana University’s vaccine mandate.

Indiana Univeristy will require students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.Credit…Lee Klafczynski for The New York Times

Aug. 12, 2021, 5:51 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court allowed Indiana University on Thursday to require students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Eight students had sued the university, saying the requirement violated their constitutional rights to “bodily integrity, autonomy and medical choice.” But they conceded that exemptions to the requirement — for religious, ethical and medical reasons — “virtually guaranteed” that anyone who sought an exemption would be granted one.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who oversees the federal appeals court in question, turned down the student’s request for emergency relief without comment. She acted on her own, without referring the application to the full court, which was an indication that the application was not on solid legal footing.

A trial judge had refused to block the requirement, and a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, declined to issue an injunction while the students’ appeal moved forward.

“Each university may decide what is necessary to keep other students safe in a congregate setting,” Judge Frank H. Easterbrook wrote for the appeals court. “Health exams and vaccinations against other diseases (measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, varicella, meningitis, influenza and more) are common requirements of higher education. Vaccination protects not only the vaccinated persons but also those who come in contact with them, and at a university close contact is inevitable.”

Judge Easterbrook, who was appointed to the appeals court by President Ronald Reagan, relied on a 1905 Supreme Court decision, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which ruled that states may 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 Indiana University’s requirement made accommodations for students with religious and other objections. (Exempted students must wear masks and take frequent coronavirus tests, requirements that Judge Easterbrook said “are not constitutionally problematic.”)

The university was entitled to set conditions for attendance, he wrote, just as it can require the payment of tuition and instruct students “to read what a professor assigns.”

“People who do not want to be vaccinated may go elsewhere,” Judge Easterbrook wrote, noting that many universities do not require vaccinations. “Plaintiffs have ample educational opportunities.”

Judges Michael Y. Scudder Jr. and Thomas L. Kirsch II, both appointed by President Donald J. Trump, joined Judge Easterbrook’s opinion.

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