It’s the first time the high court has been asked to weigh in on a vaccine mandate and comes as some corporations, states and cities are also contemplating or have adopted vaccine requirements for workers or even to dine indoors.
The case is not the first time a coronavirus-related issue has been before the Supreme Court. In rulings over the past year, the conservative-majority court has largely backed religious groups who have challenged restrictions on indoor services during the pandemic.
In the current case, however, a three-judge federal appeals court panel, including two judges appointed by former President Donald Trump, was one of two lower courts to side with Indiana University and allow it to require vaccinations. The plan announced in May requires roughly 90,000 students and 40,000 employees on seven campuses to receive COVID-19 vaccinations for the fall semester.
Students who don’t comply will have their registration canceled and workers who don’t will lose their jobs. The policy does have religious and medical exemptions, but exempt students must be tested twice a week for the disease. The school announced this week that for now, everyone, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a mask indoors while on campus.
The vaccine mandate is being challenged by eight students who argue in court papers filed Friday that they have “a constitutional right to bodily integrity, autonomy, and of medical treatment choice in the context of a vaccination mandate.” They’re asking for an injunction from the high court barring the university from enforcing the mandate. Seven of the students qualify for a religious exemption.
There is no deadline for the court to act, but the students are asking it to do so by Aug. 13.
In July, an Indiana district court judge sided with the university in declining to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the vaccine mandate. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit voted 3-0 to uphold the decision earlier this week. Two of the three appellate judges were appointed by Trump and the third by former President Ronald Reagan.
The university initially was going to require students and employees to provide immunization documentation but after a backlash changed its policy to make providing proof optional. Students and employees now must simply attest to their vaccination in an online form.
College officials across the country have struggled with whether to require vaccinations, with some schools mandating them and others questioning whether they have legal authority to do so. Similar lawsuits against student vaccine requirements have been filed in other states.
Over the past two weeks, vaccine mandates have become a particularly hot issue. On Friday, United Airlines announced it would become the first major U.S. airline to require vaccination for workers. Google, Facebook, Tyson Foods and Microsoft are among the other companies mandating vaccines.
Late last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to require vaccinations for its health workers. President Biden has since announced that federal workers will be required to sign forms attesting they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else comply with new rules on mandatory masking, weekly testing, distancing and more.