Measles, Emergency Powers, and the Allure of the ‘Old’ Public Health

April 29, 2019

(The Atlantic) – In asserting the constitutionality of vaccination mandates and coercive public health orders, public health lawyers generally look back to the Supreme Court’s 1905 case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld a law mandating smallpox vaccination stating, “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 Jacobson case is still the starting point for any discussion of the constitutionality of public health emergency powers, and courts in the modern era have continued to cite it in upholding state vaccine mandates.

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