In Brief

Lawsuit alleges N.J. vaccine mandate violates constitutional rights

By: - October 18, 2021 8:26 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday the vaccine-or-test mandate is reasonable. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, Pool)

A group of New Jersey public workers allege in a new federal lawsuit that Gov. Phil Murphy’s mandate that they and other public employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing violates their constitutional rights.

The seven-count complaint, filed the same day as the deadline for state and school workers to be vaccinated, seeks to have Murphy’s order declared unconstitutional. The roughly two dozen plaintiffs argue they should be exempt from the directive for a host of reasons, saying it violates their religious beliefs, conflicts with their vegan lifestyles, causes them anxiety, and more.

Murphy on Monday declined to comment on the claims in the lawsuit, but defended his Aug. 23 executive order that established the vaccine-or-test mandate.

“When you’ve got a vaccine mandate with a testing option … I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” he said.

The 44-page complaint details some of the plaintiffs’ arguments for why the mandate intrudes on their personal liberties. Melani Borodziuk, an administrative assistant with a school district, said she suspects her medical information is not kept private. Teacher Jill Matthews said the tests have resulted in “painful and lingering” side effects. Sandra Givas, another school employee, said she has health anxiety that makes regular testing “very hard.”

The mandate violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizures, the plaintiffs allege.

Challenges to vaccine mandates have lost in recent high-profile cases in New Jersey and beyond.

An appellate panel recently sided with Newark over its requirement that employees get vaccinated, one challenged by labor unions. A judge overseeing a federal lawsuit challenging Rutgers University’s mandate rejected a bid to temporarily restrain the school from moving forward with the requirement. The U.S. Supreme Court in August allowed Indiana University to require students get a COVID-19 vaccine, and more recently declined to intervene to stop New York City’s vaccine mandate for public workers.

On Monday, a federal judge denied a bid to put Oregon’s vaccine mandate on hold.

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Terrence T. McDonald
Terrence T. McDonald

Editor Terrence T. McDonald is a native New Jerseyan who has worked for newspapers in the Garden State for more than 15 years. He has covered everything from Trenton politics to the smallest of municipal squabbles, exposing public corruption and general malfeasance at every level of government. Terrence won 23 New Jersey Press Association awards and two Tim O’Brien Awards for Investigative Journalism using the Open Public Records Act from the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. One politician forced to resign in disgrace because of Terrence’s reporting called him a "political poison pen journalist.”