Appellate Law, Chicago, Firm News, Johnson & Bell

University’s Vaccination Requirements Don’t Violate Students’ Substantive Due Process Rights

August 9, 2021

Here is a timely appellate court ruling that might shed some light on the ongoing debate about whether companies, universities and other institutions can require vaccinations.  In Klaassen v. Trustees of Indiana University, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals denied plaintiffs-students’ request for an injunction pending their appeal of a district court’s denial of their request for issuance of a preliminary injunction to prevent defendant-University from implementing its policy requiring that all students be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they are exempt for religious or medical reasons.  Exempt students must wear masks and be tested for the disease twice a week.  Eight students contended in their suit that these conditions of attendance violate the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

The 7th Circuit rejected the students’ argument that their substantive due process rights were implicated. The court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a State’s right to mandate vaccinations for its residents in 1905 in relation to the small pox vaccination and lower courts are bound to follow the 1905 precedent until overturned.  The court also noted that health exams and vaccinations against other diseases (measles, mumps, tetanus, meningitis and more) are common requirements of higher education.  People who do not want to be vaccinated can opt to attend a different university.

The 7th Circuit clearly states that no due process rights were implicated under the facts presented.  Whether the court would take a different approach as it relates to private or public employers remains to be seen but our best estimate is that mandatory vaccinations will be upheld with the potential exception of unionized employees under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). If you have any questions about this development, please contact Johnson & Bell Shareholders, Genevieve M. LeFevour or Christopher J. Carlos.

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