Federal judge says Indiana University can have COVID-19 vaccination requirement

A ruling from a judge in South Bend has rejected a request from eight IU students who sought to block the requirement while they pursued a lawsuit claiming that the university’s policy violated both their constitutional rights and the state’s new law banning vaccine passports.

Posted: Jul 19, 2021 12:38 PM
Updated: Jul 20, 2021 10:55 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana University can require its roughly 90,000 students and 40,000 employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19 under a federal judge’s ruling that might be the first of its kind regarding college immunization mandates.

In a ruling dated Sunday, U.S. District Judge Damon Leichty in South Bend rejected a request from eight IU students who sought to block the requirement while they pursue a lawsuit claiming that the university’s policy violated their constitutional rights by forcing them to receive unwanted medical treatment.

James Bopp, a conservative lawyer representing the students, said Monday that he plans to appeal the ruling, which he believes is the first by a federal judge in challenges to such mandates, which have been imposed by hundreds of U.S. public and private colleges.

Leichty wrote that the students haven’t presented evidence showing they could prevail in the case, and that the Constitution “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.”

Leichty, who held a hearing on the case last week, said the plaintiffs could seek medical or religious exemptions offered by the university, or they could take the fall semester off or attend another school.

University officials defended the vaccination policy as one “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,” the university said in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming everyone to our campuses for the fall semester.”

Bopp said he would ask an appeals court to block the university’s policy from taking effect.

“An admitted IU student’s right to attend IU cannot be conditioned on the student waiving their rights to bodily integrity, bodily autonomy, and consent to medical treatment like IU has done here,” he said.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in federal courts in Connecticut and California, Bopp said. College officials across the country have struggled with whether they have the authority to require student vaccinations, which some see as key to returning campus to in-person classes and other normal activities.

Indiana law currently requires students at state residential colleges and universities to get immunized for six diseases — diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and meningitis.

Students in public K-12 schools are required to get vaccinated for an additional five diseases.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who range in age from 18 to 39, maintain that their age group is at low risk of severe cases of COVID-19 and that they face possible dangers from the vaccine that is being administered under federal emergency use authorization.

Leichty, who became a federal judge in 2019 after his nomination by then-President Donald Trump, faulted a doctor who testified against IU’s policy for using “soft and inconsequential language” and cited the extensive review by federal health agencies to confirm the safety of the three available COVID-19 vaccines.

“Progress has been made because of the vaccine, not despite it,” Leichty wrote. “To the extent that lingering medical and scientific debate remain … the court remains resolved that Indiana University has acted reasonably here in pursuing public health and safety for its campus communities.”

The lawsuit was filed after IU officials announced in May that the school would require all students and employees 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.

IU initially was going to require students and employees to provide immunization documentation.

That sparked a conservative backlash, with nearly all Republican members of the Indiana Senate signing a letter calling the policy a “heavy-handed mandate goes against many of the liberties on which our founders built our democratic republic.”

A non-binding opinion from Republican state Attorney General Todd Rokita’s office called the policy illegal under a new state law banning the state or local governments from requiring vaccine passports.

In response, IU made providing proof of vaccination optional and is allowing students and employees at its seven campuses to attest to their vaccination in an online form.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 926604

Reported Deaths: 15083
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1262201958
Lake626901087
Allen52772747
Hamilton43283445
St. Joseph41475584
Elkhart33129488
Vanderburgh29927439
Tippecanoe26589247
Johnson23267415
Hendricks21902340
Porter21473341
Clark17150224
Madison17065379
Vigo15815273
Monroe14298190
LaPorte14108237
Delaware13771219
Howard13635262
Kosciusko11232134
Hancock10637160
Warrick10523176
Bartholomew10341167
Floyd10200202
Wayne9690218
Grant8939196
Morgan8734158
Boone8299109
Dubois7596123
Henry7469128
Dearborn745187
Noble7294101
Marshall7237128
Cass7097117
Lawrence6862150
Shelby6457107
Jackson643981
Gibson6036106
Harrison595585
Huntington591891
Montgomery5706102
DeKalb563591
Knox537599
Miami531983
Clinton527164
Putnam525367
Whitley516251
Steuben486367
Wabash477492
Jasper471961
Jefferson461991
Ripley444175
Adams439365
Daviess4064106
Scott394963
White386257
Clay382356
Greene380189
Wells379683
Decatur379595
Fayette367176
Posey354941
Jennings346356
Washington325847
LaGrange315774
Spencer313034
Fountain309753
Randolph305487
Sullivan299447
Owen279161
Starke272761
Orange272659
Fulton268851
Jay250634
Perry247451
Carroll241127
Franklin233637
Vermillion229750
Rush228930
Parke215220
Tipton206754
Pike202538
Blackford165634
Pulaski158751
Crawford142818
Newton140742
Benton139816
Brown132646
Martin126916
Switzerland123510
Warren113416
Union93511
Ohio77211
Unassigned0468

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1342777

Reported Deaths: 21471
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1502191556
Cuyahoga1327732318
Hamilton962791318
Montgomery659161136
Summit555141045
Lucas50248862
Butler46732653
Stark40741974
Lorain31004529
Warren29609328
Mahoning26462637
Clermont25206287
Lake24339416
Delaware22014143
Licking20180241
Fairfield20139221
Greene19955268
Trumbull19500508
Medina19478286
Clark17565325
Richland15949231
Portage15851228
Wood15438208
Allen13875256
Miami13549249
Muskingum12261149
Wayne11647237
Columbiana11344239
Tuscarawas10657265
Marion10509148
Pickaway10301128
Scioto10082126
Erie9618171
Ross9209174
Lawrence8516116
Hancock8298141
Ashtabula8180185
Geauga8066155
Belmont7966184
Jefferson7324168
Huron7253127
Union717849
Washington7037119
Athens681064
Sandusky6734133
Darke6559136
Knox6475121
Seneca6237137
Ashland5808112
Auglaize580488
Shelby5654101
Mercer552190
Brown551068
Defiance5361100
Madison535170
Crawford5299114
Highland527581
Fulton520082
Clinton515980
Logan503182
Preble4902110
Putnam4778106
Guernsey454661
Williams448281
Champaign436264
Perry432152
Ottawa431184
Jackson413260
Pike378941
Morrow369150
Fayette367652
Coshocton359466
Hardin350069
Adams348069
Gallia338054
Holmes3197108
Henry318868
Van Wert307170
Hocking291669
Wyandot276158
Carroll256752
Paulding236442
Meigs205242
Monroe185049
Noble164840
Morgan159228
Harrison151940
Vinton133918
Unassigned05
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