Federal judge affirms IU’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate


A federal judge upheld Indiana University’s vaccination policy in a ruling handed down over the weekend.

Judge Damon Leichty denied a request for an injunction against the policy.

Eight Indiana University students filed the lawsuit, arguing that the university’s policy violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which includes rights of personal autonomy and bodily integrity and the right to reject medical treatment, and Indiana’s recently passed “vaccine passport” law.

IU announced the policy in June mandating that all students, faculty and staff receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The university allowed certain exceptions for medical or religious reasons.

Those who are granted an exemption will have to undergo more rigorous COVID-19 rules, including testing and mask-wearing when on campus. Masks are optional for those who are fully vaccinated.

The policy has been embroiled in controversy since it was announced, with some Indiana lawmakers urging Gov. Eric Holcomb to rescind it. Attorney General Todd Rokita issued an opinion that the policy violated state law.

Ultimately, though, Judge Leichty said the Constitution allows IU “to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff.”

The university released a statement on the ruling:

A ruling from the federal court has affirmed Indiana University’s COVID-19 vaccination plan designed for the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff. We appreciate the quick and thorough ruling which allows us to focus on a full and safe return.  We look forward to welcoming everyone to our campuses for the fall semester.

From the conclusion:

Even assuming in certain respects irreparable harm and an inadequate remedy at law, the students here haven’t established a likelihood of success on the merits of their Fourteenth Amendment due process claim, or that the balance of harms or the public’s interest favors the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction, before a trial on the merits. The court thus DENIES their preliminary injunction motion [ECF 7].

Recognizing the significant liberty interest the students retain to refuse unwanted medical treatment, the Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff. Today, on this preliminary record, the university has done so for its campus communities. That leaves the students with multiple choices, not just forced vaccination.

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