Students appeal judge’s ruling on Indiana University’s COVID-19 vaccination policy

Indiana

FILE – In this March 19, 2021, file photo, a nurse fills a syringe with COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site in Kansas City, Mo. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)

UPDATE:

The eight Indiana University students who filed a lawsuit against IU for mandating that all students, faculty and staff receive the COVID-19 vaccine filed an appeal Tuesday after a federal judge upheld the university’s vaccination policy in a ruling handed down over the weekend.

Students seek an order enjoining IU from enforcing its mandate until the a decision is made on the appeal.

ORIGINAL STORY:

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. The policy goes into effect for the fall semester.

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.

IU adjusted the policy so that proof of vaccination is not required.

Ultimately, though, Judge Leichty said IU can “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.

While the lawsuit can proceed, the ruling denies a motion for an injunction on the policy 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.

The Bopp Law Firm says the ruling will be appealed.

“Today’s ruling does not end the students’ fight—we plan to immediately appeal the judge’s decision,” said James Bopp, Jr., Director of Litigation for America’s Frontline Doctors, and lead counsel in the lawsuit. “In addition, we plan on asking the judge to put a hold on IU’s Mandate pending that appeal. We are confident the court of appeals will agree that the Mandate should be put on hold.

“Continuing our fight against this unconstitutional mandate is necessary to guarantee that IU students receive the fair due process they’re owed by a public university,” said Bopp. “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. IU’s Mandate did not properly balance the risks (both known and unknown) of the COVID vaccine to college-age students against the risks of COVID itself to that population and that college-aged students have a very low risk of adverse effects from a COVID infection. Furthermore, IU did not adequately consider the waning stage of the COVID pandemic before issuing its Mandate.” 

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