INDIANAPOLIS – Legal experts in Indiana say the Biden administration’s requirement for federal workers to get vaccinated or face routine testing and other COVID-19 safety protocols is allowed under the law.
From a legal standpoint, the requirement for federal employees is no different than a similar mandate from a private business, according to Jody Madeira, professor of law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law.
“The Justice Department lawyers just determined federal law does not prohibit public agencies or private businesses from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine, even if the FDA has only authorized these vaccines for emergency use,” Madeira said.
The legality of this type of requirement has already been settled previously in the U.S. Supreme Court, Madeira added.
“Basically, the Court said we can protect the public welfare over individual liberties,” she said. “We can protect the common good over personal liberty.”
Earlier this year in Indiana, the state passed a law banning state and local governments from issuing or requiring vaccine passports.
But experts say that law can’t be applied to federal employees.
“It would not have the same application, and that is a really important caveat because if you can’t ask for the proof of it, you are, in a sense, taking someone at their word,” said Laura Wilson, associate professor of political science for the University of Indianapolis.
Wilson noted this isn’t a vaccine mandate, so people who don’t want to get vaccinated or show proof aren’t at risk of losing their jobs – as long as they comply with the other safety rules.
“Certainly, some people will talk about individual rights and protections, but this isn’t a mandate in the sense that people have to be vaccinated if they’re a federal employee,” she explained.
Earlier this week, Gov. Eric Holcomb said he’s leaning against requiring the vaccine for state employees.
Indiana’s congressional delegation is sharing mixed reactions to President Biden’s announcement.
“I absolutely oppose the Biden administration mandating masks and forcing vaccinations on the American people,” Rep. Greg Pence of Indiana’s 6th district said in a statement. “This authoritarian approach by the Biden administration lacks the science and betrays the trust of the American people. This decision to mandate that federal employees be vaccinated will only service to increase hesitancy in the vaccines, lead to fewer Americans choosing to vaccinate themselves, and further erode the American People’s trust in the federal government.”
Rep. André Carson of Indiana’s 7th district agreed with the Biden administration’s call.
“I am supportive of the measures President Biden announced today to help protect Americans from COVID-19,” Carson said in a statement. “Especially in times of crisis, Americans should come together and do the right thing for the greater good. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, and the best tool we have to fight this virus. We must expand our efforts to get as many people fully vaccinated as possible. I pledge to work with the Administration to implement these new policies safely and equitably, so we can save Hoosier and American lives while respecting people’s right to medical privacy.”
Rep. Victoria Spartz of the 5th congressional district disagreed.
“The federal government should be encouraging vaccination by providing more transparency, but mandatory vaccination is an unconstitutional infringement on people’s civil rights,” she said in a statement.
Rep. Larry Bucshon of Indiana’s 8th district also sent us a statement, saying,
“Medical decisions should be made between a patient and their doctor. I don’t think governments should mandate getting a medical treatment, whether it is a vaccine, surgery, or any other treatment if the individual chooses not to. I support the government issuing guidance based on facts and science, but the current guidance coming out of the CDC has not been based in fact. I urge all Hoosiers to talk with their doctors to figure out the COVID-19 vaccine that is right for them.”