Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905) deals with forcible vaccinations by the state for health reasons.
Jacobson held the important rule. It said, “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.” This rule said states can vaccinate the state people.
Indeed, the facts of Jacobson v. Massachusetts are straight forward. Basically, the city of Cambridge vaccinated all their residents for health reasons. They could do this under state statute.
The decision was 7 to 2 majority. John Marshall Harlan delivered the majority. He spoke for all seven members.
The state police power was at issue in Jacobson v. Massachusetts. The state had to protect public health and safety, so was it in the scope of the state’s police power to do so? This was the issue that need to be answered by the Supreme Court in this case.
Interestingly, Jacobson v. Massachusetts was a controversial decision. Justice John M. Harlan said the state has the police power to forcibly vaccinate the people for health reasons. Health and safety issues fall under the state police power and override an individual’s freedom.
In the past, famous Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes would defer to state laws. If a state wanted to sterilize an imbecile for health reasons, the state could do it under it’s state police power. Also, he believed, if the majority compelled them, individuals could be forced to give up their lives in the case of military drafts; in fact, he saw the human body as property of the state. Holmes did not believe that the Supreme Court should get in the way of laws passed by the majority.
Today, state vaccinations make the news. Jenny McCarthy says they are bad in the media. Moreover, horror movies play on ideas of state forcible vaccinations like in zombie flicks. This issue seems popular in the media.
Consequently, Jacobson v. Massachusetts would be cited in controversial decisions. These cases included Roe v. Wade, Griswald v. Connecticut, Eisenstadt v. Baird, and Buck v. Bell. It would set precedent for years to come.