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Jacobson v. Massachusetts

Court Defers To Legislature

The Court ultimately ruled that neither the statute nor the methods employed by the city were unconstitutional, and that application of the statute to Jacobson did not violate his Fourteenth Amendment rights. Underlying the Court's ruling was the Court's unwillingness to second-guess the state legislature, the board of health, and the medical profession as to the efficacy and safety of the smallpox vaccine. Conceding that some reputable physicians did not believe that vaccination prevented smallpox, the Court nonetheless took judicial notice of the fact that, for generations, the mass of the people, as well as most members of the medical profession had accepted vaccination as a preventive of smallpox. The Court said,

Since, then, vaccination, as a means of protecting a community against smallpox, finds strong support in the experience of this and other countries, no court, much less a jury, is justified in disregarding the action of the legislature simply because in its or their opinion that particular method was--perhaps, or possibly--not the best either for children or adults.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Jacobson v. Massachusetts - Significance, Compulsory Vaccination Lawful, Court Defers To Legislature, Exemption For Unfit Adult?, Impact