Ars Technica  |  August 28, 2021

If that all sounds like jackbootery to you, the history of American public health law and policy says otherwise. Vaccine mandates and other rules that limit personal behavior in the service of societal well-being are super-legal. Just ask Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who reaffirmed that notion two weeks ago with a terse not-gonna-happen in response to a lawsuit brought by students at Indiana University against their school’s vaccine mandate. Barrett’s hard nope upheld an appeals court decision that was in turn based on Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the 1905 Supreme Court decision that gave the OK to requirements for smallpox vaccinations, among other public health regulations. (Most Americans support vaccine mandates, by the way. They are, of course, split along lines of political affiliation. One study this summer suggested that if elite Republicans came out forcefully in favor of vaccines—not just a “personal choice, ask your doctor” move, but full-bore encouragement, it’d increase the number who planned to get vaccinated by as much as 7 percent.) “Nobody has the freedom to go unmasked and unvaccinated in a crowded workspace or classroom. We don’t have the freedom in America to expose other people to an infectious disease,” says Lawrence Gostin, a public health policy expert at Georgetown University.

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