Phillips v. City of New York, No. 14-2156-cv (2d Cir. Jan. 7, 2015).
New York’s vaccination law requires that all children be vaccinated before they can attend the state’s public schools. There are two exceptions. First, if a physician certifies that vaccination could hurt the child—due to a compromised immune system, for example—then the child needn’t be vaccinated. Second, if the parents’ religious beliefs prohibit vaccination, then the children need not be vaccinated to attend school.
A group of parents challenge this law as unconstitutional on a number of grounds. All of those challenges are rejected by the Second Circuit. A 1905 Supreme Court decision says that vaccination mandates don’t violate due process, so that challenge fails. The parents argue that the mandate violates their free exercise of religion, but that argument also fails, and for an equally compelling reason: New York’s law already contains a religious exemption. (The Second Circuit notes that the law would still be constitutional even if it lacked a religious exemption.) Nor, finally, does the law violate the Equal Protection Clause.
As the Second Circuit’s opinion shows in a remarkably restrained way, well-established law plainly doomed the parents’ arguments. If anyone wants to rail against frivolous lawsuits, here is a good example.
UPDATE (1/8/15): Reuters journalist Alison Frankel reads the briefing and interviews the parents’ attorney here. In their briefing, the parents argued that Jacobson, the 1905 Supreme Court decision on vaccination, had been overruled. “According to [the] brief,” writes Frankel, “post-1905 Supreme Court precedent on the fundamental right to control your medical treatment dictates that courts apply heightened scrutiny to state vaccination programs, not the rational-basis scrutiny the Supreme Court used in Jacobson.” Any argument that a Supreme Court precedent has been silently overruled, however, is doomed to failure in a circuit court. See, e.g., State Oil Co. v. Khan, 522 U.S. 3, 20 (1997) (“[I]t is this Court’s prerogative alone to overrule one of its precedents.”).