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Federal Court Revives Lawsuit Against Los Angeles COVID-19 Vaccine MandateCase hinges on effectiveness of the vaccines.

A federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit challenging the COVID-19 vaccine mandate imposed by the Los Angeles school district, noting that the record does not clearly show whether the vaccines prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

The Health Freedom Defense Fund and other challengers to the mandate asserted that it violated the due process and equal protection rights of district employees, in part because the vaccines, unlike traditional vaccines, “are not effective” in preventing infection.

U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer disagreed, throwing out the case in 2022. She ruled that even if the COVID-19 vaccines do not prevent infection, mandates can be imposed under a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court ruling because the vaccines reduce symptoms and prevent severe disease and death.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on June 7 reversed that ruling, finding that Judge Fischer extended the 1905 Jacobson v. Massachusetts ruling “beyond its public health rationale—government’s power to mandate prophylactic measures aimed at preventing the recipient from spreading disease to others—to also govern ‘forced medical treatment’ for the recipient’s benefit.”

U.S. Circuit Judge Ryan Nelson, writing for the 2–1 majority, added: “At this stage, we must accept plaintiffs’ allegations that the vaccine does not prevent the spread of COVID-19 as true. And, because of this, Jacobson does not apply.” That position was reached after lawyers for the defendants provided facts about the vaccines that “do not contradict plaintiffs’ allegations,” he said.

Lawyers for the district had pointed out that a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publication describes the COVID-19 vaccines as “safe and effective” but the publication does not detail effectiveness against transmission.

The majority also concluded that the case is not moot even after the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in 2023 rescinded the mandate. That move only came after the appeals court heard arguments in the case, and comments from district board members indicated the mandate could be reimposed in the future. In 2021, the district added an option for employees to be frequently tested for COVID-19 in lieu of a vaccine after being sued, only to remove the option after a different suit was thrown out.

“LAUSD’s pattern of withdrawing and then reinstating its vaccination policies is enough to keep this case alive,” Judge Nelson said.

He was joined by U.S. Circuit Judge Daniel Collins.

The ruling remanded the case back to Judge Fischer “for further proceedings under the correct legal standard.”

In a concurring opinion, Judge Collins said the allegations in the case implicate “the fundamental right to refuse medical treatment,” pointing to more recent Supreme Court rulings, including a 1997 decision in which the court stated that the “‘right of a competent individual to refuse medical treatment’ was ‘entirely consistent with this nation’s history and constitutional traditions,’ in light of ’the common-law rule that forced medication was a battery, and the long legal tradition protecting the decision to refuse unwanted medical treatment.’”

In a dissent, U.S. Circuit Judge Michael Daly Hawkins said that the school district “has averred that, absent a very unlikely return to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will not reinstate the policy.”

“Neither the speculative possibility of a future pandemic nor LAUSD’s power to adopt another vaccination policy save this case,” the judge said.

Judges Nelson and Collins were appointed under President Donald Trump. Judge Hawkins is an appointee of President Bill Clinton. Judge Fischer is an appointee of President George W. Bush.

Leslie Manookian, president of the Health Freedom Defense Fund, said in a statement that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling “made clear that American’s [sic] cherished rights to self determination, including the sacred right of bodily autonomy in matters of health, are not negotiable.”

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