Saturday, February 13, 2021

Vaccines, and the Police State: Jacobson v. Massachusetts

By Douglas V. Gibbs
Author, Speaker, Instructor, Radio Host

We are a week away from the one hundred and sixteenth anniversary of a controversial Supreme Court Decision that was decided during a smallpox epidemic in Massachusetts. Early twentieth century America was being faced by an epidemic of smallpox seeping through the northeastern states of the union, and the State of Massachusetts at that time passed a law requiring its residents to receive a smallpox vaccine.  The State of Massachusetts argued that it had the responsibility to protect the public's health, and a pastor argued that due to past injuries he and his son had received from past vaccines he had the right to refuse to receive the inoculation, and should also be not required to pay any fines associated with such a refusal.  The case made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

On February 20, 1905, Jacobson v. Massachusetts (197 U.S. 11) was decided, upholding Massachusetts' alleged authority to have and enforce compulsory vaccination laws.  According to the court, in the face of a public emergency, individual liberty must take a back-seat to the authorities of a police state determined with the best of intentions to protect its communities.

Now, with the COVID-19 protocols about a year old, the question of whether or not individual liberty is absolute, or may compromised in the face of a public emergency, has emerged again.

When the Founding Fathers established our American System, did they intend for the right of liberty to be limited by government in the face of public health emergencies?  Does the government have the authority to use sweeping powers to quarantine even the healthy and force vaccinations upon the citizenry?

Jacobson v. Massachusetts ended with a 7-2 majority decision on February 20, 1905 after four years of the smallpox virus slamming the northeast, and the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts fining residents who refused to receive smallpox injections.  Pastor Henning Jacobson argued that, “compulsion to introduce disease into a healthy system is a violation of liberty.”  The courts argued that liberty ceases to exist in the manner being described by Jacobson when the good of the community is at risk.

Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote that the police power of states to regulate for the protection of public health was tied to “The good and welfare of the Commonwealth, of which the legislature is primarily the judge, is the basis on which the police power rests in Massachusetts...upon the principle of self-defense, of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.”

The judges sound like the ideas of Rousseau between the American and French Revolutions, where the Frenchman argued that a general will exists, of which the people do not recognize, but a ruling elite is able to recognize and determine what the general will is, and it must be applied regardless of one's claims to have God-given natural rights because, "man must be forced to be free."

Jacobson had argued that the Massachusetts law requiring mandatory vaccination was a violation of due process under the 14th Amendment.  He used the precedent of Allgeyer v. Louisiana (1897) as a part of his argument, stating that in the case in 1897 a state law preventing certain out-of-state insurance corporations from conducting business in the state was an unconstitutional restriction of freedom of contract under the 14th Amendment. Harlan answered that while the Court had protected such liberty, a citizen: "[M]ay be compelled, by force if need be, against his will and without regard to his personal wishes or his pecuniary interests, or even his religious or political convictions, to take his place in the ranks of the army of his country and risk the chance of being shot down in its defense. It is not, therefore, true that the power of the public to guard itself against imminent danger depends in every case involving the control of one's body upon his willingness to submit to reasonable regulations established by the constituted authorities, under the sanction of the State, for the purpose of protecting the public collectively against such danger."

The Court did not extend the rule beyond the facts of the case before it. Harlan ended his opinion by stating the limitations of the ruling: “We are not inclined to hold that the statute establishes the absolute rule that an adult must be vaccinated if it be apparent or can be shown with reasonable certainty that he is not at the time a fit subject of vaccination or that vaccination, by reason of his then condition, would seriously impair his health or probably cause his death.”

A couple decades later a new lawsuit regarding vaccines emerged.  1922s Zucht v. King was decided regarding state laws requiring children to be vaccinated before attending public school.  Justice Louis Brandeis and a unanimous court held that Jacobson “settled that it is within the police power of a state to provide for compulsory vaccination” and the case and others “also settled that a state may, consistently with the federal Constitution, delegate to a municipality authority to determine under what conditions health regulations shall become operative.” 

Eighty years later yet another federal court ruling emerged regarding vaccines.  In Boone v. Boozeman, decided August 12, 2002, the courts determined that there are no exemptions to mandatory vaccination laws.  This includes "sincerely held religious beliefs," or parental rights regarding decisions concerning medical procedures of their children.

One can argue that the Bill of Rights does not have an asterisk next to the list of enumerated rights stating, "unless there's a virus."  In the Declaration of Independence, when it comes to our natural rights and the rule of law the document points out each of us "assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them."  In other words, as individuals, our liberty is also individualistic.  The courts, in their disagreement, have taken a more collectivistic approach, proclaiming that in some instances, such as health emergencies, the needs or protection of the community outweighs that of the individual.  While the Declaration lists life and liberty being among the rights that government has no authority to tamper with (at least not without first applying the due process of law), the courts have determined that our unalienable rights are alienable when a public crisis arises.

Despite the decisions of the courts on the matter, and despite the fact that there are no clauses in the U.S. Constitution that state "thou shalt not mandate vaccinations," the very idea of anything that should be voluntary having a compulsory label slapped upon it is both immoral, and outside the intended spirit of the principles of the U.S. Constitution.  The federal government has no authority to demand we allow government to insert unknown ingredients into our bodies whether we like it or not, and States shouldn't have that authority, either.  The whole point of American Liberty is individualism, and the idea that the individual should be able to assess the risks involved with receiving a vaccination, or not receiving a vaccination, and make their own decision regarding the issue accordingly.

The mandatory vaccine proposals are no different than the face covering edicts or government requiring us to wear seatbelts.  While the best of intentions, and the best interest of the community are being served, in the end, we, as individuals, in the name of liberty, must be given the opportunity to make our own decisions regarding these issue.  For policy to be otherwise is a back window entrance for government to chase a dark path that ultimateley leads to tyrannical control over the populace.

-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary

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