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Letter: No one has the ‘liberty’ to selfishly endanger others

Letter: No one has the ‘liberty’ to selfishly endanger others

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With freedom comes responsibility; no one has the freedom to deprive his neighbors of their freedoms or their lives.

This is the essence of the rationale behind the holding of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905). In this case, the Court denied a challenge to a Massachusetts law mandating the smallpox vaccine. The challenger, Jacobson, sought relief from a criminal fine for refusing to get the vaccine on the ground that the mandate violated his liberty interest under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In denying Jacobson’s request for relief, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote, “(Liberty) … is not [an] unrestricted license to act according to one’s own will. It is only freedom from restraint under conditions essential to the equal enjoyment of the same right by others.”

As most of us learn by middle school, the Executive Branch is tasked with the power and the duty to enforce, i.e., execute faithfully, the laws of the United States (U.S. Const., Art. II, Sec. 3).

Accordingly, the chief executive, i.e., the president, and the executive agencies under him have the authority to enforce our labor and occupational safety and health laws in order to effectuate their statutory provisions and policies. If these statutory provisions can reasonably be interpreted to authorize the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to mandate a Covid-19 vaccine to ensure healthy workplaces, then so be it.

And, based on the rationale of the Jacobson case, the U.S. Supreme Court should not entertain an objection to such a mandate on the ground that it offends the liberty interest of a challenger who, without exemption, refuses to get the vaccine, thereby endangering the liberty interests and lives of not only his or her fellow co-workers but also others with whom he or she comes into contact.

Maurice Baggiano, JD


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