Judge: Vaccine mandate invades privacy rights
The Florida ruling could have unintended consequences
Most challenges to COVID-19 vaccine mandates have centered on medical or religious exemptions. But in what may be a first, a group of more than 200 employees of one Florida city prevailed last week in their claim that a vaccine mandate offended their right to privacy.
Florida Judge Monica Brasington on Wednesday blocked Gainesville’s mandatory vaccine policy for city employees. “The city’s vaccine mandate facially interferes with its employees’ right to refuse unwanted medical treatments and/or procedures, implicates plaintiffs’ fundamental right to privacy, and is ‘presumptively unconstitutional,’” she concluded.
On Aug. 26, the group of employees and contractors sued the city to overturn the mandate, arguing many already had natural immunity to COVID-19 while others objected to the vaccine on religious, medical, or privacy grounds. According to the complaint, internal surveys indicated many would rather quit than receive a novel vaccine.
“If, as internal survey suggests, large numbers of linemen, police officers, and firemen will accept termination rather than the short-lasting and nonsterilizing vaccines, there is a nontrivial risk that, from one day to the next, the city could be left without critical capacity to take people to hospitals, keep the power on, and quell riots,” the complaint contends.
Objections to vaccine mandates based on the right to privacy or bodily integrity have typically not succeeded in courts. But Florida’s Constitution, like some other states’, has a broader right to privacy than the U.S. Constitution’s due process clause, Liberty Counsel’s Roger Gannam said. Article 1, Section 23 reads, “Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein.” That, and the city’s failure to provide any evidence to justify its policy, was enough to undermine the mandate.
But Gannam said the ruling could be a double-edged sword when it comes to the abortion issue. People also cite Florida’s more robust privacy protection in defense of easy abortion access. An effort to amend the state’s constitution to separate the privacy provision from abortion failed, he said. Even if the Supreme Court overrules the right to abortion found in Roe v. Wade,
Florida and other states with broader privacy guarantees could reject protections for unborn babies under state constitutional law.
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