The Republican National Committee and 24 state attorneys general have threatened to sue the Biden administration over the forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine mandate, but experts say legal precedent could be on the president’s side.
The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to use its authority soon to issue the mandate as an emergency temporary standard. The White House says the requirement will affect more than 80 million workers in private-sector businesses that have more than 100 employees. Medicare and Medicaid recipient entities also will be required to mandate vaccination or testing of employees.
Legal experts expect that challenges will be launched, but in the past, the Supreme Court has sided with the federal government.
Constitutional scholars point to the 1905 Supreme Court decision that upheld a smallpox vaccine requirement in Cambridge, MA, in the case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts. The case challenged “the validity, under the Constitution of the United States, of certain provisions in the statutes of Massachusetts relating to vaccination.” The court determined that the local board of health had the constitutional authority to require vaccination during an epidemic.
“There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good,” the court said. “On any other basis, organized society could not exist with safety to its members. Society based on the rule that each one is a law unto himself would soon be confronted with disorder and anarchy.”
“In 1905, the high court made a fateful ruling with eerie parallels to today: One person’s liberty can’t trump everyone else’s,” Politico reported.
It is likely that the Supreme Court will need to revisit Jacobson in the coming months to evaluate whether the same standard applied with respect to the COVID-19 vaccination, experts say.