Jacobson v. Massachusetts
|Jacobson v. Massachusetts|
|Argued December 6, 1904
Decided February 20, 1905
|Full case name||Henning Jacobson, plaintiff in error v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts|
|Citations||197 U.S. 11 (more)|
|[T]he police power of a state must be held to embrace, at least, such reasonable regulations established directly by legislative enactment as will protect the public health and the public safety.|
|Majority||Harlan for seven members|
|Dissent||Brewer and Peckham|
Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court upheld the authority of states to enforce compulsory vaccination laws. The Court's decision articulated the view that the freedom of the individual must sometimes be subordinated to the common welfare and is subject to the police power of the state.
Henning Jacobson, a Swedish immigrant to the United States and a minister, lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During an outbreak of smallpox in 1902, he refused to comply with the town's order for all adults to be vaccinated. He claimed a vaccine had made him seriously ill as a child and had made his son and others sick as well. He was ordered to pay a $5 fine. He refused to pay and the Massachusetts courts, including the Supreme Judicial Court, rejected his arguments that the compulsory inoculation violated the state and U.S. constitutions. Jacobsen was supported by the Massachusetts Anti-Compulsory Vaccination Association. Massachusetts was one of only eleven states that had compulsory vaccination laws.
Opinion of the Court
Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote the decision for a 7-2 majority. He granted that the Constitution guarantees individual liberties but that the state can encroach on those liberties when "the safety of the general public may demand."
The anti-vaccine movement mobilized following the decision and the Anti-Vaccination League of America was founded three years later in Philadelphia to promote the principle that "health is nature’s greatest safeguard against disease and that therefore no State has the right to demand of anyone the impairment of his or her health." The League warned about what they believed were the dangers of vaccination and the dangers of allowing the intrusion of government and science into private life, part of the broader process identified with the Progressive Movement. The League asked: "We have repudiated religious tyranny; we have rejected political tyranny; shall we now submit to medical tyranny?"
The Supreme Court reaffirmed its decision in Jacobson in Zucht v. King (1922), which held that a school system could refuse admission to a student who failed to receive a required vaccination.
One analysis of the decision in Jacobson called it "a foundational public health law case" but also said that "It addressed issues about medicine, disease, and society that are no longer relevant today." In this view, vaccines developed in the late 20th and the 21st centuries to protect against sexually transmitted diseases, such as the HPV vaccine, are qualitatively different from those designed to protect against airborne diseases like smallpox.
- "Toward a twenty-first-century Jacobson v. Massachusetts," Harvard Law Review, vol. 121, no. 7 (May 2008), 1822
- "Toward a 21st-century", 1822-3
- "Toward a 21st-century", 1823-4
- "Toward a 21st-century", 1824-5
- "Toward a 21st-century", 1821
- "Toward a 21st-century", 1825ff.
- George J. Annas, "Blinded by Bioterrorism: Public Health and Liberty in the 21st Century," Health Matrix (2003)
- James Colgrove and Ronald Bayer, "Manifold Restraints: Liberty, Public Health, and the Legacy of Jacobson v. Massachusetts", American Journal of Public Health, vol. 95, no. 4 (2005), 571–576
- Lawrence O. Gostin, "Jacobson v. Massachusetts at 100 Years: Police Power and Civil Liberties in Tension," American Journal of Public Health, vol. 95, no. 4 (2005), 576–581
- Wendy K. Mariner et al., "Jacobson v. Massachusetts: It's Not Your Great-Great-Grandfather's Public Health Law," American Journal of Public Health, vol. 95, no. 4 (2005)
- Michael Willrich, Pox: An American History (Penguin, 2011)