Colleges and universities with vaccine mandates – and others considering them – received resounding affirmation to the validity of such requirements late Thursday.
Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett denied a request from eight Indiana University students who were seeking to have IU’s vaccination requirement blocked over what they claimed were violations of their 14th Amendment rights.
Justice Barrett, who oversees emergency appeals from the state and the 7th Circuit— which effectively upheld Indiana vaccine mandate last week—refused to advance the submission to the Supreme Court, instead simply rebuking the challenge from students and their attorney, James Bopp.
Bopp said students will continue the fight, although it is unclear how they will do that given its denial from the highest court in the land. Students had hoped for a better outcome, at least a weighing-in from all of the justices. They had submitted a lengthy document through the Bopp Law Firm to Barrett directly earlier in the week, asking for an emergency ruling on IU’s decision to require all students to be vaccinated before entry this fall.
“All students are adults, are entitled to make their own medical treatment decisions, and have a constitutional right to bodily integrity, autonomy, and of medical treatment choice in the context of a vaccination mandate,” they wrote. “IU, however, is treating its students as children who cannot be trusted to make mature decisions.”
Barrett did not offer a reason initially for her decision, but the 7th circuit did three weeks ago when judge Damon Leichty shot down their claims in a 100-page response, saying:
“The university isn’t forcing the students to undergo injections. The students aren’t being forced to take the vaccination against their will; they can go to college elsewhere or forego college altogether. If this case were merely that, merely the right to attend university, this state action wouldn’t trample on their rights. There is no fundamental or constitutional right to a college education, much less one at a particular institution.”
He did cite a case from 1905—Jacobson v. Massachusetts—when states intervened during the smallpox crisis to mandate vaccines of citizens. The Supreme Court upheld that decision and states were allowed to impose fines on individuals who did not receive them.
Indiana University’s policies, which cover all of its campuses, do allow for medical, religious and “ethical” exemptions, though it has not clarified what the last one would cover. According to the Associated Press, seven of the eight students petitioning to stop IU’s mandate say they can qualify for religious exemptions.
Students must have their vaccines completed by Sunday or can work with the university on a planned timeframe to get them done. IU also has stated that those who are not vaccinated can participate through its online-only program.
Though nearly 700 colleges and universities have vaccine mandates in place, thousands more have not. Many are welcoming students back on campuses this weekend, and there are concerns about potential spread of COVID-19 among campus populations, particularly where vaccines and masks are not required and where the delta variant is spreading fast.
Will the denial have an effect on decision-making, and will it become predecent-setting, both for higher education and in K-12 school districts?