In Brief

Judge declines to block Rutgers vaccine mandate

By: - September 28, 2021 2:06 pm

The judge cited U.S. Supreme Court precedent for the enforcement of vaccine mandates that has gone largely unchallenged for more than 100 years. (Courtesy of Rutgers)

A federal judge declined to block Rutgers University’s vaccine mandate Monday, ruling the anti-vaccine group that lodged the suit failed to demonstrate the action was likely to succeed or that the plaintiffs would face irreparable harm.

U.S. District Court Judge Zahid Quraishi denied the bid for an injunction to block the mandate sought by Children’s Health Defense — an anti-vaccine group with ties to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — and 12 current or future university students.

In his ruling, first reported by Law360, Quaraishi found the plaintiffs failed to meet all four bars it needed to meet for injunctive relief.

Without hearing oral arguments, Quraishi ruled the suit was unlikely to succeed, citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent for the enforcement of vaccine mandates that has gone largely unchallenged for more than 100 years.

That 1905 case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, involved a state resident who refused to comply with a smallpox vaccine mandate, charging the state law requiring such vaccinations was unconstitutional.

Because Rutgers’ mandate allows religious and medical exemptions to vaccinations, the university’s mandate is less strict than the standard established in Jacobson, and the ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic puts the policy on firm ground, Quraishi found.

Recent suits against vaccine mandates in Indiana and Massachusetts have also proven unsuccessful.

The timing of the plaintiffs’ filing raised eyebrows. Though Rutgers announced it would require its students to be immunized against COVID-19 in March and adopted the policy the following month, the lawsuit was not filed until late July.

The vaccine opponents didn’t seek an injunction until Aug. 30, only two days before the semester began. By delaying, the plaintiffs harmed themselves, the judge said.

He also found blocking the mandate would harm the university by forcing it to adopt costly measures to accommodate unvaccinated students. The increased spread of COVID-19 would harm the public interest, he ruled.

The suit is ongoing despite the lack of an injunction. The university is due to respond to the plaintiffs’ complaint by Oct. 29.

Quraishi’s decision is unsurprising. The suit against Rutgers’ vaccine mandate always faced long odds, and those appear to have grown longer still after a plaintiff made an incorrect claim that she was told to get the vaccine because of a remote-learning class she was taking.

It turned out that student was set to attend a single class that could meet in person later in the semester and was not enrolled in a fully online degree program, according to Monday’s ruling. Students enrolled in the all-remote program are not provided with university IDs, are not expected to ever come to campus, and are exempted from the mandate.

The plaintiffs earlier this month sought Quraishi’s recusal, charging his time as an adjunct for the Rutgers University Law School could create the appearance of a conflict of interest, though they did not claim any such conflict exists.

Quraishi declined, citing numerous cases where sitting judges with ties to the Newark law school remained on cases involving the New Brunswick undergraduate college, which is named as a defendant in the vaccine suit.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.