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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Seventh Circuit urged to strike down university vaccine mandate

Since last fall, Indiana University has required all students, faculty, and staff to be fully vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus or get an approved exemption.

CHICAGO (CN) — Indiana University’s Covid-19 vaccine requirement was debated Tuesday before the Seventh Circuit, where the three-judge panel questioned if the entire matter was moot.

The challenge to the university’s vaccine requirement was filed in Fort Wayne federal court in June 2021, just weeks after the school announced the policy that took effect for the fall semester. The students who filed the lawsuit claimed the mandate violated their right to “personal autonomy and bodily integrity."

in July, a federal judge refused to block the mandate, and a month later the Seventh Circuit denied a request for an injunction pending appeal. After those defeats, the students filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, which the justices quickly rejected.

Following that procedural maze, the case headed back to the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit for a hearing on the legality of IU's vaccine mandate.

James Bopp, an attorney for the students, told the panel Tuesday the mandate should be struck down.

“The district court made two critical findings...that vaccinated people can become infected and transmit the virus, and that college-age students have an extremely low risk of any adverse effects of Covid infection,” he said.

However, U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook, a Ronald Reagan appointee, immediately questioned Bopp on if the entire matter was moot, because the record did not contain facts about the current situation of one of the students and her school enrollment status. The status of Natalie Sperazza, who appears to be the only remaining plaintiff, is important to the case because if she is no longer seeking to attend IU, then the court could rule the mandate is doing no harm.

“I think before we proceed, we need to have current information about her status and plans,” Easterbrook said. “Unless we know her status in the record, I think we have to dismiss this lawsuit as moot.”

After a little back and forth between Easterbrook and Bopp, the judge suggested that an affidavit be filed as soon as possible with the requested information, or the case would have to be dismissed.

Bopp then proceeded to the merits of his argument, claiming data suggests that the Covid-19 vaccines do not prevent infection or the spread of the disease and therefore the university should not be able to mandate them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website rebuts this claim, saying, “Getting vaccinated against Covid-19 can lower your risk of getting and spreading the virus that causes Covid-19. Vaccines can also help prevent serious illness and death.”

Attorney Brian Paul argued on behalf of the university and said the mandate is supported by previous court rulings that have upheld the ability of state and local governments to issue vaccination requirements.

Paul also argued that the current data suggests the vaccines are safe and effective, and even if younger students are less likely to suffer severe effects from the virus, the mandate also protects the health of the 8,500 faculty and staff employed by IU.

“As the district court noted, IU could reasonably believe that even a low death rate is unacceptable given the relative safety of the vaccines,” Paul told the judges.

Bopp closed the proceedings by reiterating in his rebuttal that IU vaccine policy is an overreach in power.

“They think that they can seize the power of requiring any medical treatment where they deem the occurrence of death or serious injury among their students doesn’t meet their level of acceptability," he said.

U.S. Circuit Judges Thomas Kirsch and Michael Scudder, both appointed to the court by Donald Trump, joined Easterbrook on the panel. The judges did not indicate when they would issue a ruling.

The hearing comes as Covid-19 cases in Indiana are skyrocketing. The Hoosier State is currently averaging 12,702 new cases a day.

Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Education, Health

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