IU students taking vaccine mandate fight to 7th Circuit, seeking stay of enforcement

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. 

A group of Indiana University students is taking a challenge to the school’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals after an Indiana district court declined to enjoin the mandate. The students are also asking a federal judge to stay enforcement of the mandate while the appeal proceeds.

Represented by the Terre Haute-based Bopp Law Firm, eight current or soon-to-be IU students filed a notice of appeal Tuesday following the Sunday decision denying their request for a preliminary injunction against the university’s policy requiring students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before coming to campus in the fall. They have also filed a motion for an injunction pending appeal that would prevent IU from enforcing the mandate while the case proceeds in the 7th Circuit.

In the latter motion, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, the plaintiffs argue Judge Damon Leichty erred when he evaluated the vaccine mandate under rational-basis review rather than strict scrutiny. They argue IU should have been required to prove that the vaccine mandate is constitutional under the 14th Amendment.

“IU is unable to justify its Mandate under the correct legal standard, making Students likely to succeed on the merits,” the plaintiffs wrote in their Tuesday motion. 

“This Court correctly held that ‘[t]o the extent that the students establish a constitutional harm, the law presumes irreparable harm.’ Accordingly, Students have shown that they are irreparably harmed by IU’s Mandate,” the motion continues. “Likewise, this Court correctly held that ‘[i]f there were to be a constitutional injury here, the court could see that there is no adequate remedy at law if it didn’t issue the preliminary injunction.’ As shown above … Students have shown a constitutional injury, so it must follow that there is no adequate remedy at law.”

They continued, “Students have shown that the balance of harms tips in their favor, where their constitutional rights are being violated. In contrast, IU has not shown that it will be harmed, as the risk of COVID has significantly declined and a significant portion of IU’s population is already vaccinated. Moreover, anyone that wants to be vaccinated can do so, free of charge, so Students(‘) decision to not vaccinate does not harm others.”

The students requested a ruling on their Tuesday motion by Thursday. If the court wants responsive briefing, they asked for a deadline of noon Wednesday and waived their right to reply. But online court records did not show a request for responsive briefing as of 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, and none had been filed.

IU’s vaccination policy does include exemptions for religious and medical reasons. Students who are excused from being inoculated will have to adhere to university requirements for masking, regular testing and social distancing.

Currently about half of Hoosiers ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. COVID-19 cases are again rising in the state, with more than 500 people hospitalized.

The case was docketed in the 7th Circuit as Klaassen, et al. v. Trustees of Indiana University, 21-2326, on Tuesday. No motions had been filed in the appellate case as of Wednesday morning.

“We are committed to continuing the students’ fight,” James Bopp Jr., lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a Tuesday news release. “… Preventing enforcement of this Mandate and continuing to fight is the only way to protect these students and guarantee that their fundamental constitutional rights are not violated.”

IL senior reporter Marilyn Odendahl contributed to this report.

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