NYC's new vaccine mandate fuels legal debate for businesses

Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Keenan reports details on NYC's vaccine mandate testing the authority of a 1905 Supreme Court case.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Welcome back. Vaccine mandates are coming to New York City, and we'll test a very old court case-- 116 years old, to be exact. We have Alexis Keenan here to break down "Jacobson v. Massachusetts," and what the decision could mean for government vaccine requirements. Hi, Alexis.

ALEXIS KEENAN: Hi, Kristin. Thanks. So yes, New York City's set to become the first government in the country to ban unvaccinated people from indoor spaces. That will come starting August 16.

That's where anyone unvaccinated will have no right at that point to visit indoor restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues. The same goes for workers in those locations. Everyone will need one dose. And the text of that rule though has not yet been released.

Now, the reason that this policy is so closely watched by legal circles is because it's the first time that a state or a local government made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for the public. Now, that is entirely different from a company or a university setting vaccination rules for workers, or for students, for example.

Now, constitutional law experts, they say that New York should absolutely be expecting legal objections to this rule, because the law is in an area that is a bit unsettled. Now the most likely challenges, they say, will come from a scenario where if, that's if, the city makes no exceptions to that general rule for those who decline vaccination because of a medical condition, a religious belief, or even a disability.

But to really try to handicap how the courts, or even the Supreme Court, would decide these issues, you have to go back all the way to that court case you mentioned. It's a 1905 case, and it's called "Jacobson v. Massachusetts." And there the court held that the state's smallpox vaccine was legally OK. Now despite that decision though, the court didn't address some of the key points, and that's where the city could get some pushback on this law, as could any other city or state that adopts this type of a vaccine requirement.

Now, the court didn't directly deal there with these instances that I mentioned earlier-- underlying medical conditions, perhaps a disability-- and importantly, there was no Americans with Disabilities Act at that time to even challenge this rule. Also, religious beliefs, those were not raised in this case. So ultimately these experts say that the strongest legal argument for those who want to oppose this rule will come from the constitutional right to be-- to freely exercise religion. That's the one that they think is the most key.

Whether or not those underlying medical conditions will stand, and disability, whether those will be good arguments-- yes to underlying medical conditions-- but aside from that, really it's that religious argument that has a chance they think. Now this new policy, it will be, as I said, officially effective next Monday here in New York City. The inspection and enforcement mechanism though will be rolled out starting on September 13. Kristin and Brian?

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, thanks so much, Alexis Keenan, for breaking all of that down. I didn't know I was going to be getting a civics lesson in a very old court case today, but I'm glad that I did.

ALEXIS KEENAN: Doing my best.

KRISTIN MYERS: Thanks a lot.

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