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Jacobson v. Massachusetts

    Brief Fact Summary. A state statute was alleged to be unconstitutional for requiring vaccination.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. In order to protect public health and safety, the scope of the state’s police power includes the authority to enact reasonable regulations to do so.

    Facts. Cities in Massachusetts could require that all residents be vaccinated, as authorized by a state statute.  This type of regulation was adopted by the city of Cambridge.

    Issue. In order to protect public health and safety, does the scope of the state’s police power include the authority to enact reasonable regulations to do so?

    Held. (Harlan, J.)  Yes.  In order to protect public health and safety, the scope of the state’s police power includes the authority to enact reasonable regulations to do so.  The Constitution secures liberty for every person within its jurisdiction, but does not give an absolute right for each person to be free from restraint at all times and in all circumstances.  Every person is required to be subject to various restraints for the common good.  The efforts by Cambridge to stamp out smallpox are substantially related to the protection of public health and safety.  There has been nothing to clearly justify the Court holding the statute to be unconstitutional.  Affirmed.

    Discussion. This case was never repudiated.  The Court suggested there is no liberty interest in conduct that may put others at risk.  The courts were extremely deferential to a state’s power to protect the public health in the early part of the twentieth century.


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