Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett struck a surprising blow against those seeking to defy COVID vaccine mandates on Thursday when she dismissed a challenge to a college’s mandate without comment.
A group of eight students at Indiana University sought an emergency injunction from the Supreme Court against their college’s vaccine mandate. Barrett, who was supervising 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in her capacity, reviewed the motion and rejected it.
Barrett decided not to refer the matter before the nine-member court. She also did not offer any explanation. This could have wider consequences for national vaccine mandates.
James Bopp Jr., a conservative attorney, represented the plaintiffs. However, he failed to convince the circuit and district judges of the merits.
Bopp submitted an emergency request for an injunction, which Barrett denied on Thursday.
This decision could indicate how the Supreme Court might rule on vaccine mandates’ legality.
Students argued that Indiana University’s mandate was in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Barrett was appointed by Donald Trump. She is likely to disappoint conservatives and other opponents to vaccine mandates, or the vaccination in general. However, her decision is consistent with precedent.
Although Barrett did not offer any explanations for the dismissal of the application, U.S. district Judge Damon R. Leichty (also a Trump appointee) pointed to the 1905 case Jacobson. Massachusetts when he ruled in favor of the students in June.
The Supreme Court upheld the state’s power to require compulsory vaccinations in that case. At the time, smallpox was the disease at issue. Jacobson’s precedent was followed by subsequent rulings, such as 1921’s Zucht V. King in which the court ruled that San Antonio’s school district could not exclude students who haven’t had the required vaccinations.
Judge Leichty noted in June: “To answer the question today, the court travels back in time to 1905: a time before the modern tiers of constitutional analysis (strict scrutiny and rational basis) and one rampaged by the smallpox epidemic.”
He stated that the United States Supreme Court had issued a landmark decision in response to this question “in that year”. Leichty’s ruling was later upheld by a three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit. All three judges were Republican appointees.
Barrett’s refusal of emergency relief to Barrett or to let the case go before the full court could indicate that the court isn’t ready to revisit a 100 year-old precedent.
Although the court is composed of a 6-3 conservative majority it doesn’t necessarily mean that a majority exists for Jacobson to overturn or even hear a challenge against settled precedent.
Further legal challenges may be possible as more schools, colleges, and employers require vaccination against COVID. However, if Barrett’s recent decision is anything to go by, it could prove successful.