Bloomberg Law
Aug. 12, 2021, 9:39 PM

University Vaccine Mandate Stays as Justice Barrett Rebuffs Plea

Greg Stohr
Greg Stohr
Bloomberg News

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett turned away a challenge to Indiana University’s requirement that all students be vaccinated against Covid-19 for the fall semester unless they have a religious or medical exemption.

Giving no explanation, Barrett on Thursday summarily denied a request to block the vaccine mandate from eight students who said their constitutional rights were being violated.

The case marked the first time the nation’s highest court has acted on a vaccine mandate. It comes as universities and employers across the country are moving to require Covid inoculations in an effort to stem the rapid spread of the Delta variant.

Barrett, the justice who takes the first look at emergency matters from Indiana, acted alone and chose not to refer the request to the full nine-member court. She denied the request without asking the university to file a response.

The Indiana University policy applies to faculty and staff as well as students. Those who receive a religious or medical exemption must wear masks in public spaces and be tested twice a week.

In backing the university, a federal appeals court cited a 1905 Supreme Court ruling that said states may require people to get vaccinated against smallpox. Writing for the three-judge panel, Judge Frank Easterbrook said the Covid case is “even easier” than the smallpox dispute because Indiana allows religious and medical exemptions.

Easterbrook said people who don’t want to be vaccinated “may go elsewhere.” The suing students “have ample educational opportunities,” he wrote.

Six of the eight suing students have claimed a religious exemption but say they object to having to wear masks and be tested. In court papers, the group said the university “is treating its students as children who cannot be trusted to make mature decisions” and has substituted itself for students and their physicians.

The students filed their application late last week, asking Barrett to act by this Friday.

The case is Klaassen v. Trustees of Indiana University, 21A15.

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To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Elizabeth Wasserman at

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