Appeals court allows IU to proceed with COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Alysen Shields preps Dr. Grant Gilroy for his COVID-19 vaccination. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a request to scuttle Indiana University’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, letting the Bloomington-based school system proceed with its requirement that students, faculty and staff be inoculated against the virus before returning to campus this month.

Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the unanimous appellate panel that also included Judges Michael Scudder and Thomas Kirsch. The panel on Monday handed down the order denying the injunction sought by a group of IU students in Ryan Klaassen, et al. v. Trustees of Indiana University, 21-2326.

The eight plaintiffs had argued the mandate violated their 14th Amendment rights to bodily autonomy and integrity and to medical treatment choice.

The school allows exemptions for medical, religious and ethical reasons, and at the time of the initial 7th Circuit filings, seven of the eight plaintiffs had either been granted an exemption or were eligible. Those granted an exemption must wear a mask, practice social distancing and participate in regular COVID testing.

The Indiana Northern District Court denied the students’ request to enjoin the mandate, then declined to stay its ruling pending appeal. The plaintiffs likewise asked the 7th Circuit to stay enforcement of the mandate pending appeal, seeking relief by July 31.

The appellate court waited until Monday to hand down its denial.

“Given Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), which holds that a state may require all members of the public to be vaccinated against smallpox, there can’t be a constitutional problem with vaccination against SARS-CoV-2,” Easterbrook wrote Monday. “Plaintiffs assert that the rational-basis standard used in Jacobson does not offer enough protection for their interests and that courts should not be as deferential to the decisions of public bodies as Jacobson was, but a court of appeals must apply the law established by the Supreme Court.”

Jacobson defeats the plaintiffs’ argument that IU’s vaccine mandate violated their fundamental rights, thus implicating substantive due process, Easterbrook wrote. And, he added, “this case is easier than Jacobson for the University, for two reasons.”

First, Jacobson upheld a vaccine mandate that did not allow for exceptions for adults, while IU’s mandate does have exceptions. And second, unlike in Jacobson, “Indiana does not require every adult member of the public to be vaccinated … ,” the 7th Circuit held.

“Each university may decide what is necessary to keep other students safe in a congregate setting. 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 person but also those who come in contact with them, and at a university close contact is inevitable,” Easterbrook wrote for the panel.

“We assume with plaintiffs that they have a right in bodily integrity. They also have a right to hold property,” he continued. “Yet they or their parents must surrender property to attend Indiana University. Undergraduates must part with at least $11,000 a year (in-state tuition), even though Indiana could not summarily confiscate that sum from all residents of college age.

“… If conditions of higher education may include surrendering property and following instructions about what to read and write, it is hard to see a greater problem with medical conditions that will help all students remain safe when learning,” the panel concluded. “A university will have trouble operating when each student fears that everyone else may be spread disease. Few people want to return to remote education — and we do not think that the Constitution forces the distance-learning approach on a university that believes vaccination (or masks or frequent testing of the unvaccinated) will make in-person operations safe enough.”

This story will be updated.

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12 thoughts on “Appeals court allows IU to proceed with COVID-19 vaccine mandate

  1. I’m guessing that everyone will be hearing about Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905) fairly regularly once the FDA fully approves Moderna and Phizer shots. Again, I’m guessing, but willing to wager, that once fully approved, states will begin mandating the shots.

  2. IU by saying seven of the eight plaintiffs qualifies for exemptions shows me they are giving serious considerations to those that have legitimate reasons for not getting the vaccine. That sounds like a reasonable compromise for all sides. For example if you already had Covid and can show an antibody test that confirms that then getting a shot on top of that should be optional since natural immunity may be as effective or better. I have no idea if that’s one of their exemptions, but it should be.

    1. These kids’ lawyer is just making $$$ on stupidity. He should almost face sanctions from the Indiana State Bar.

    2. Robert, no offense taken. I assume their will be lots of lawsuits all over the country testing mandates even with the past precedents for them. I suspect that eventually the Supremes will have to rule on this and I also suspect that they will support the previous mandates even though it’s a supposedly conservative court. They have shown a willingness to not let politics cloud their decisions so far.

    3. Judicial precedent is a thing … unless you’re convinced that five judges would argue that Jacobson was decided incorrectly, Jim Bopp is just wasting someone’s time and money on this one.

      Throwing Jacobson out would be a public health disaster.

  3. There continues to be significant medical information that does not support the vaccine. Most importantly it is not approved by the FDA. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have had the china virus and are considered immune. There are hundreds of thousands of people who will be compromised caused by such an injection. There are thousands of people who have died after being injected with the vaccine. There are millions of immigrants being allowed to cross US borders who are infected with the virus; yet appears to be off topic. There are still too many questions to ask and we are not getting truthful answers. One cannot depend on the CDC, NIH, or so-called experts who constantly change the narrative. The real pandemic has become the constant demands which are being forced upon us. Our health is at risk with a plethora of other life-threatening factors and there is something gravely wrong when a government begins to force control on a free nation.

    1. Yet you can’t post a link to any of it, you just repeat the same nonsense that is being loaded into your brain by deeper and shadower forces than the CDC or NIH.

      Millions of people have taken these vaccines around the world. Have some super small percentage of people died from them? Yes. Are your unvaccinated chances of death or long COVID higher than dying from the vaccine? Also yes.

      You need better news sources, and you need to divorce yourself from the idea that you’ve got better information than the experts. The idea that average Joe on the street is smarter than experts in highly specialized fields is nuts, and it’s as sad as that guy who rode the pine on his JV basketball team who played 35 seconds a season who thinks he was a better player than Larry Bird.