Federal appeals court upholds Indiana University COVID-19 vaccine mandate
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Federal appeals court upholds Indiana University COVID-19 vaccine mandate

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on Monday denied a motion for an injunction pending appeal upholding the lower court’s own denial of a motion for preliminary injunction against Indiana University’s mandate that all students get the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to campus in the fall.

Indiana University’s vaccination policy requires all students, faculty, and staff to be vaccinated or have an approved exemption before returning to campus. Vaccination exemptions are only available for religious, ethical, and/or medical reasons or if a student is enrolled in a completely online program.

The original injunction request was filed by eight students from Indiana University representing a variety of different backgrounds and age groups. The students filed the complaint challenging both the vaccination mandate and the precautions concerning masks, frequent mitigation testing and quarantine requirements for those who test positive for COVID-19.

Judge Damon Leichty of the US District Court for the Northern District of Indiana denied the injunction last month stating that the plaintiffs failed to meet the necessary standards for a preliminary injunction, and noted that the court’s analysis of the mandate’s constitutionality was limited to the context of a preliminary injunction and was not a final decision on the merits of the case. Plaintiffs immediately filed this motion to block the vaccine mandate while the case is on appeal.

The appeals court likewise denied the injunction rejecting the plaintiffs’ claim that the University’s vaccine mandate infringed on their fundamental rights. Pointing to the relatively-limited scope of the mandate and the numerous exemptions it offers, Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook stated:

[Jacobson v Massachusetts], which sustained a criminal conviction for refusing to be vaccinated shows plaintiff lack such [a fundamental right]…And this case is easier than Jacobson for the University, for two reasons… Indiana University has exceptions for people who declare vaccination incompatible with their religious beliefs…six of the eight plaintiffs have claimed a religious exception, and a seventh is eligible for it…Indiana University does not require every adult member of the public to be vaccinated, as Massachusetts did in Jacobson…Vaccination is instead a condition of attending Indiana University. People who do not want to be vaccinated may go elsewhere. Many universities require vaccination against SARS-CoV-2, but many others do not. Plaintiffs have ample educational opportunities…A university will have trouble operating when each student fears that everyone else may be spreading the disease. Few people want to return to remote education.

The court also drew parallels between the vaccination mandate and a university’s requirements for tuition that necessitates the surrender of property plaintiffs have a right to, or a university’s demand for students to “read things they prefer not to read and write things they prefer not to write.” Thus, the court concluded that it failed to see a problem with a vaccine mandate that “help all students remain safe while learning” while conditions of higher education may include “surrendering property or following instructions about what to read or write.”

Circuit Judges Michael Scudder and Thomas Kirsch joined Easterbrook’s opinion.

Indiana University spokesman Chuck Carney lauded the appeals court ruling stating: “Once again, the court has affirmed our legitimate public health interest in assuring the safety of our students, faculty and staff and we are excited to welcome our community back for the fall semester.”