A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Seventh Circuit Holds University’s Mandatory COVID Vaccination Policy Does Not Violate Constitutional Rights

By on August 4, 2021 in Students with 0 Comments

By: Gitika Kapoor, Law Clerk
Editor: Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq

On August 2, 2021, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Klaassen v. Trustees of Indiana University held that Indiana University, a public educational institution, may continue its policy to require students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to return to campus for the fall semester. The Court held that the vaccine requirement does not violate a student’s substantive due process rights under Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Indiana University’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate offers two exemptions: medical and religious. In light of safety concerns arising from the risk of transmission from unvaccinated students, Indiana University requires students who qualify for one of the exemptions to wear masks and be tested for COVID-19 twice a week.

In this case, eight students challenged the public institution’s policy and argued that these conditions of attendance violate the due process clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. They requested the federal district court to issue an injunction to restrain Indiana University from implementing the vaccine mandate. The federal district court denied the students’ request for an injunction and held that the policy survives a rational basis review because it is based “in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty and staff.” The students appealed to the Seventh Circuit.

In upholding the district court’s decision, the Seventh Circuit relied on the standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905) whereby courts grant substantial deference to state policies regarding public health. The Court stated that the right to refuse vaccination is “not a fundamental right ingrained in the American legal tradition.” Rather, the Court noted that vaccination requirements have been common in this country, and vaccinations are common requirements in higher education. The Court explained that while the university requires students to be vaccinated as a condition for attendance, students are not robbed of their element of choice and continue to have ample educational opportunities. Moreover, the Court recognized that in light of unique congregation settings with inevitable close contact, universities may decide what is necessary to keep other students safe. The Court also noted that the religious and medical accommodations reduce constitutional concerns, and the requirements to wear masks and undergo routine testing are not “constitutionally problematic.”

Finally, the Court stated that a university would run into operational difficulties when the fear of spreading COVID-19 looms large among students. Therefore, the Court denied the students’ motion for an injunction pending appeal, allowing Indiana University to continue enforcing the vaccine mandate.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq. concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, and OPMA. In connection with these representations, she is experienced in handling matters before State and Federal courts, including the Office of Administrative Law. Ms. Dev is an experienced special education litigator and defends school districts in due process hearings from inception through trial. In addition, she has handled matters before governmental agencies, including the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Ms. Dev routinely conducts training and seminars, drafts policies and manuals, and provides strategic advice to school administrators regarding school law issues. Ms. Dev was recently recognized as one of South Jersey’s Awesome Attorneys as published by South Jersey Magazine. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the District Court for the District of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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