Supreme Court Lets Indiana University Vaccine Mandate Stand

Supreme Court Lets Indiana University Vaccine Mandate Stand
portrait of Anne Dennon
By Anne Dennon

Published on August 16, 2021

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In the first case regarding college vaccination requirements to reach the Supreme Court, Justice Amy Coney Barrett turned down a request from a group of Indiana University students to block their university's mandate. Barrett is the Supreme Court judge responsible for emergency appeals from Indiana.

According to the Washington Post, Barrett appears to have made the decision on her own, without referring the matter to the other justices. Previously, a federal district judge turned down the students' request and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request that the vaccine mandate be put on hold while the lawsuit continues.

The eight students suing Indiana University in Klaassen v. Trustees of Indiana University said the vaccine mandate violates their constitutional rights, and that the vaccine represents a greater risk to them than the virus. Attorneys for the students argued that the "risk of serious morbidity and mortality from COVID for those under 30 is close to zero," while "the known and unknown risks associated with COVID vaccines, particularly in those under 30, outweigh the risks to that population from the disease itself."

Exemptions and Freedom of Choice Allow Mandate to Stand

The decisions of the district and circuit courts on Klaassen v. Trustees of Indiana University relied on a 1905 Supreme Court decision: Jacobson v. Massachusetts. In that case, the court upheld a government requirement that people get vaccinated against smallpox or pay a fine.

While the law at issue in 1905 did not include religious or medical exemptions, Indiana University's mandate does, District Judge Damon R. Leichty pointed out. Students have other options: take the vaccine, apply for an exemption, apply for medical deferral, or attend classes online or at another college. "People who do not want to be vaccinated may go elsewhere," Leichty wrote. As the policy so far only applies to the fall 2021 semester, Leichty sayid students could also take the semester off.

Of the eight Indiana University students suing the school, six have received religious exemptions. A seventh qualified for an exemption but had not applied.


Feature Image: SOPA Images / Contributor / LightRocket / Getty Images

Eight Indiana University students have filed a lawsuit against Indiana University over its COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Indiana's attorney general says the mandate is legal. With a federal court weighing in on a university's authority to require COVID-19 vaccines, students argue the mandate violates Fourteenth Amendment rights. Colleges across the U.S. are increasingly requiring COVID-19 vaccination for on-campus learning. Check out the full list of colleges that require the vaccine.