U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett refused Thursday to block Indiana University’s requirement that most students on campus this fall be vaccinated against COVID-19. It was the first time the Supreme Court has weighed in on the legality of such mandates, which hundreds of U.S. universities and some companies have adopted amid the pandemic.
Indiana University was sued in June by eight students who claimed the school’s vaccine requirement was unconstitutional. The university has said all students, faculty and staff must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they are approved for an exemption on medical, religious or ethical grounds. Students who are exempted must wear masks on campus and be frequently tested for the coronavirus.
After a federal court in Indiana and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit both sided with the university, refusing to block the mandate while litigation continues, the eight students sought an emergency injunction against the requirement from Barrett. The justice, an appointee of Donald Trump, has jurisdiction over the 7th Circuit.
“IU is coercing students to give up their rights to bodily integrity, autonomy, and of medical treatment choice in exchange for the discretionary benefit of matriculating at IU,” read the students’ petition to the Supreme Court, according to CNN.
Barrett ― who could have referred the case to the full court but chose to act unilaterally ― sided with the lower courts and denied the students’ request without additional comment.
In its ruling earlier this month, the 7th Circuit had said that vaccination requirements “have been common in this nation” and noted that Indiana University has allowed for exemptions in some cases, which hasn’t always been true in American vaccination history.
The appeals court pointed to a 1905 Supreme Court decision that states could make smallpox vaccines compulsory without exemption.
In July, U.S. District Judge Damon Leichty in South Bend, Indiana, said Indiana University’s mandate “isn’t forced vaccination” and that the Constitution permits the school “to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty and staff.”