While our telephones and email flood with messages from upset parents, angry about the forced masking of our children, an unlikely hero comes to the rescue. However, he completely messed up. He’s attempting to score for the opposing team. Democrat nominee for W. Va. Attorney General in the 2020 election, in the name of allegedly protecting civil rights for multiple children, filed a lawsuit against the Governor and various school entities to attempt to force a comprehensive statewide mask mandate for children. He is essentially suing to force the Governor to issue an emergency executive order.
Where do I begin? If the Supreme Court wouldn’t let me force the Governor to call the legislature into session last year, in lieu of just issuing incessant executive orders, I can’t imagine they would allow an anti-civil rights lawyer to force him to actually issuing an executive order. We can take issue with the scope of the Governor’s emergency powers, but the concept that the Governor gets to issue, or not issue, his own executive orders, seems pretty uncontroversial. Though I suppose it’s having the desired effect of convincing various county school boards to reverse their prior decisions on a local level, which several have apparently done in the past day or so.
At the same time, the Republican leadership in the W. Va. legislature sent a letter to the W. Va. Attorney General official asking him to give an opinion on whether employer vaccine mandates and vaccine passports are in violation of the West Virginia Constitution. First off, it’s the U.S. Constitution that stands any chance of going up against the mandates. Any analysis of the W. Va. Constitution is going to have to begin with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Jacobson case from 1905. Because that would be the first case cited by the W. Va. Supreme Court, should they hear the issue.
Proponents of governmental overreach in the COVID era have consistently pointed to Jacobson as justification for whatever measures the government is undertaking for the purported goals of protecting the health and safety of their citizens, which in turn is utilized by both public and private employers to attempt to mandate vaccines on their employees. Jacobson opined on the role of the U.S. Constitution in controlling state police powers, as understood in 1905, granting states and local governments an affirmative carte blanche to engage in state disease control efforts.
What that means, is that as it currently stands, SCOTUS has said that the U.S. Constitution allows vaccine mandates in the past. So if W. Va. has carte blanche to engage in disease control efforts, the ball is squarely in the State Legislature’s court. No federal court or caselaw is likely going to stop it. The only way to stop broad employer mandates right now, whether public or private, is through legislative action. That is a very real possibility right now in West Virginia, given the fact that numerous state legislators are currently calling for a special session to consider that very legislation.
Regarding Jacobson’s 1905 era values, let’s not forget that Jacobson’s legal rationale led to the case of Buck v. Bell, the infamous 1927 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found no restriction was placed on states’ police powers by the U.S. Constitution regarding a state’s public policy initiative to engage in involuntary sterilization of a woman who was purported to be of low intelligence. 274 U.S. 200 (1927). This decision by the SCOTUS gave the eugenics movement added legitimacy and considerable momentum. By 1931, 28 out of 48 states had adopted eugenic sterilization laws.
Jacobson left the door open for future refinement, conceding that state or local government could exercise police powers in an arbitrary or unreasonable manner. The ensuing future refinement came in the form of 20th century civil liberties which were recognized and developed by the courts. Since Jacobson, the Supreme Court has recognized numerous limits on health and safety regulations, including the right against involuntary restraint, decisions about marriage, contraception, procreation, family relationships, sexual relationships, child rearing and education, as well as the right to refuse life-saving treatment. Nobody is arguing that state police powers retain the ability to suppress any of these now-federally-recognized rights. But they want to leave the forced vaccine part in effect.
In addition to the rights itemized supra, the Supreme Court recognized, and continues to recognize, the right of bodily integrity, which was the category of freedom from government action, the higher order, under which the specific rights described in Roe, as well as Cruzan, fell. E.g., Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 915 (1992) (“One aspect of this liberty is a right to bodily integrity, a right to control one’s person.”). In Cruzan, Chief Justice Rehnquist reiterated in his majority opinion, “every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall e done with his own body….” Cruzan, 479 U.S. at 269.
West Virginia has also recognized the right to bodily integrity as a fundamental right. In the recent decision in Kruse v. Farid, 835 S.E.2d 163 (W. Va. 2019), the West Virginia Supreme Court noted that “all competent patients have the right to refuse medical care,” and that such right “has been recognized by both the United States Supreme Court and by the Legislature of this State.” Id. at 168. The W. Va. Court cited the SCOTUS, at length:
[a]t common law, even the touching of one person by another without consent and without legal justification was a battery. See W. Keeton, D. Dobbs, R. Keeton, & D. Owen, Prosser and Keeton on Law of Torts § 9, pp. 39-42 (5th ed. 1984). Before the turn of the century, this Court observed that “[n]o right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by clear and unquestionable authority of law.” Union Pacific R. Co. v. Botsford,
141 U.S. 250, 251[, 11 S. Ct. 1000, 1001, 35 L. Ed. 734] (1891). This notion of bodily integrity has been embodied in the requirement that informed consent is generally required for medical treatment. Justice Cardozo, while on the Court of Appeals of New York, aptly described this doctrine: “Every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body[.]” Schloendorff v. Society of New York Hospital, 211 N.Y. 125, 129-130, 105 N.E. 92, 93 (1914) [, superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Retkwa v. Orentreich , 584 N.Y.S.2d 710, 154 Misc. 2d 164 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1992) ]. The informed consent doctrine has become firmly entrenched in American tort law. See Keeton, Dobbs, Keeton, & Owen, supra, § 32, pp. 189-192; F. Rozovsky, Consent to Treatment, A Practical Guide 1-98 (2d ed. 1990).…
[T]he common-law doctrine of informed consent is viewed as generally encompassing the right of a competent individual to refuse medical treatment. Cruzan by Cruzan v. Dir., Mo. Dep’t of Health , 497 U.S. 261, 269-70, 277, 110 S.Ct. 2841, 111 L.Ed.2d 224 (1990). Accord Collins , 517 S.W.3d at 92 (” ‘All competent adults have a fundamental right to bodily integrity. … Included in this right is the right of competent adult patients to accept or reject medical treatment.’ ” (quoting Church v. Perales , 39 S.W.3d 149, 158 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000) ) (additional citations omitted)). Likewise, the West Virginia Legislature has recognized this personal right to make health care decisions: “Common law tradition and the medical profession in general have traditionally recognized the right of a capable adult to accept or reject medical or surgical intervention affecting one’s own medical condition[.]” W. Va. Code § 16-30-2(b)(1) (LexisNexis 2016).Kruse v. Farid, 835 S.E.2d 163, 168-69 (W. Va. 2019).
Thus, there is some basis in West Virginia state law in which to oppose mandates. However, it’s still grounded in federal constitutional law. You would expect the legislative leadership to know and understand this. Perhaps it’s just political posturing, sending a hardball to the Attorney General, in order to force him give the ultimate opinion that there’s nothing in the West Virginia Constitution which applies the mandate issues presented. What benefit does that confer to we the people, who are opposed to mandates? I can take the liberty of answering for the Attorney General that what the West Virginia Constitution does say, is that sole legislative power is vested in the legislature. Since SCOTUS believes state police powers control mandate law at the state level, the legislature should have the final say. At least unless our anti-civil rights hero gets his way. But do they have the political will?