By Andrew Chung
(Reuters) -U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Thursday denied a bid by students at Indiana University to block the school’s requirement that they be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Barrett rejected the students’ emergency request without offering any explanation and without referring the matter to the full court for review. The decision marks an early test of vaccine mandates during a period of surging infections and hospitalizations caused by the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Eight students sued in June, contending the mandate violates their right to “bodily integrity” and due process under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
In a legal filing, they told the justices the university “is treating its students as children who cannot be trusted to make mature decisions.” Lower courts had rejected the students’ request for an injunction while litigation continues.
Beginning this fall, the university requires that students be vaccinated unless they qualify for a religious or medical exemption. Those granted exceptions would be required to wear face masks and be tested twice weekly.
COVID-19 vaccines have become a political flashpoint in the United States as the highly contagious Delta variant has slammed states with lower vaccination rates.
Hundreds of colleges and universities have mandated the COVID-19 vaccine, as have some private employers. The students’ case presents one of the first challenges to the legality of these mandates.
In July, U.S. District Court Judge Damon Leichty in South Bend, Indiana, sided with the school, finding the policy “isn’t forced vaccination.” On Aug. 2 the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also rebuffed the students, noting that vaccine requirements are common.
“A university will have trouble operating when each student fears that everyone else may be spreading disease,” the appeals court said.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)