Constitutional Law

Federal judge refuses to block Indiana University's vaccine mandate; incoming 1L is among the plaintiffs

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COVID-19 vaccine

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A federal judge in South Bend, Indiana, has refused to block Indiana University’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for faculty and students in an opinion that said the plaintiffs' 14th Amendment claim was unlikely to succeed.

U.S. District Judge Damon Leichty of the Northern District of Indiana ruled for the university Monday in a challenge litigated by James Bopp Jr., a conservative Terre Haute, Indiana, lawyer who made a name for himself challenging campaign finance laws, including the ban on corporate campaign spending that was overturned in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

The New York Times, Courthouse News Service, Law360 and Reuters have coverage.

Leichty’s July 18 opinion said the vaccine mandate served a legitimate public health purpose, and the university allowed exemptions for religious and medical reasons. Those who are not vaccinated have to wear a mask, get tested and socially distance themselves.

The eight student plaintiffs had claimed a violation of a 14th Amendment right to “personal autonomy” and “bodily integrity.” One of the plaintiffs, 26-year-old Ashlee Morris, is an incoming first-year law student at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law who obtained a religious exemption from the vaccine mandate. She said she won’t attend the law school if she has to wear a mask or get tested.

A few other student plaintiffs also obtained exemptions.

“One might well hale a certain Emersonian self-reliance and self-determination as preference—an unfettered right of the individual to choose the vaccine or not—but given a preliminary record such as today’s, the court must exercise judicial restraint in superimposing any personal view in the guise of constitutional interpretation,” Leichty wrote.

“Reasonable social policy is for the state legislatures and its authorized arms and for the people to demand through their representatives.”

Bopp said he will appeal. According to Courthouse News Service, he is director of litigation for America’s Frontline Doctors. The conservative group has an anti-vaccine agenda and will pay for the appeal, according to the New York Times.

The case is Klaassen v. Trustees of Indiana University.

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