In response to an outbreak of smallpox more than a century ago, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a mandatory vaccination law for adults, imposing hefty fines and potential imprisonment for those who refused.
Proclaiming the law to be an invasion of his liberty, Henning Jacobson, a pastor and community leader, refused to be vaccinated, was prosecuted and fined, and subsequently filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of this edict.
Writing for the 7-2 majority in Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905), Justice John Marshall Harlan rejected Jacobson’s argument, upholding the state’s right to vaccinate Jacobson against his will.
You can read the opinion of the Supreme Court about forced vaccines and overriding individual Constitutional Rights here:
To learn more details about the case, just search up Jacobson v. Massachusetts
It was decided in 1905 and has carried over in many other cases through out the USA ever since (the opinion/ruling).
The Court’s decision articulated the view that the freedom of the individual must sometimes be subordinated to the common welfare and is subject to the police power of the state.
Here’s the entire court’s opinion:
We come, then, to inquire whether any right given or secured by the Constitution is invaded by the statute as interpreted by the state court. The defendant insists that his liberty is invaded when the State subjects him to fine or imprisonment for neglecting or refusing to submit to vaccination; that a compulsory vaccination law is unreasonable, arbitrary and oppressive, and, therefore, hostile to the inherent right of every freeman to care for his own body and health in such way as to him seems best, and that the execution of such a law against one who objects to vaccination, no matter for what reason, is nothing short of an assault upon his person. But the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good. On any other basis, organized society could not exist with safety to its members. Society based on the rule that each one is a law unto himself would soon be confronted with disorder and anarchy. Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others. This court has more than once recognized it as a fundamental principle that
“persons and property are subjected to all kinds of restraints and burdens, in order to secure the general comfort, health, and prosperity of the State, of the perfect right of the legislature to do which no question ever was, or upon acknowledged general principles ever can be, made so far as natural persons are concerned.”
Railroad Co. v. Husen, 95 U. S. 465, 95 U. S. 471; Missouri, Kansas & Texas Ry. Co. v. Haber, 169 U. S. 613, 169 U. S. 628, 169 U. S. 629; Thorpe v. Rutland & Burlington R.R., 27 Vermont 140, 148. In Crowley v. Christensen, 137 U. S. 86, 137 U. S. 89, we said:
“The possession and enjoyment of all rights are subject to such reasonable conditions as may be deemed by the governing authority of the country essential to the safety, health, peace, good order and morals of the community. Even liberty.
The Supreme Court has had little to say about state power to override people’s liberty during epidemics. The most helpful case is from back in 1905 during the smallpox epidemic, Jacobson v. Massachusetts. In that case, a pastor argued that a mandatory smallpox vaccination violated his constitutional rights. The Supreme Court sided with Massachusetts but framed its decision carefully.
The Court acknowledged that “the liberty secured by the Fourteenth Amendment . . . consists, in part, in the right of a person ‘to live and work where he will.’” But it added: “in every well-ordered society . . . the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand.”
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