A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit brought by Honolulu Fire Capt. Kaimi Pelekai and other first responders challenging Covid-19 vaccine mandates for government workers, saying the issue is moot.
U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson stopped short of ruling on the merits of the lawsuit, saying rather that the court had no jurisdiction over the case because, after filing their complaint on Aug. 13, the plaintiffs had all been able to exercise exceptions to the mandates.
“With respect to the 12 Plaintiffs currently before the Court, none has been required or ‘forced,’ to take a COVID-19 vaccination. And none will be,” Watson’s 16-page order said.
The first responders, on Oahu and Maui, had alleged that state and county mandates violated numerous federal and international laws because the plaintiffs were being forced to take the vaccines against their will.
At the time, the vaccines were not fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration but instead were being given out under an “emergency use authorization,” which was also central to the allegations: that the governments were forcing employees to be human test subjects.
The complaint named as defendants the State of Hawaii, Gov. David Ige, the City and County of Honolulu, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, Maui County, Maui Mayor Michael Victorino and Secretary Xavier Bacerra of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
But Watson wrote that since the plaintiffs filed suit they had been given exemptions.
The judge said the state policy being challenged allowed employees to forgo vaccination completely “and opt to undergo testing instead − an approach Plaintiffs commend.” Watson added that Maui has the same policy.
“As for Honolulu,” the judge wrote, “the relevant Plaintiffs also need not be vaccinated, as they have all been granted a religious exemption from doing so.”
Concerning the alleged human testing issue, Watson noted that the widely used Pfizer vaccine has received full FDA approval since the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit on Aug. 13. But in the end, the vaccine’s FDA status doesn’t matter because the plaintiffs don’t have to take it, Watson wrote.
The issue of government employees being required to receive Covid-19 vaccinations has been a subject of controversy across the U.S., raising questions about a government’s power to limit individual personal liberty in the name of protecting public health.
Earlier this month former University of Hawaii football coach Nick Rolovich was removed from his job coaching football at Washington State University for refusing to take a vaccine, in defiance of a state mandate for government employees. Rolovich has said he will sue, according to The Guardian.
Governments have often cited a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court decision when defending Covid-19 vaccination mandates. That case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, held that the state could force people to get smallpox vaccinations. The language of the opinion foreshadowed the debate that has surfaced more than a century later surrounding Covid-19 vaccinations.
“There is, of course, a sphere within which the individual may assert the supremacy of his own will, and rightfully dispute the authority of any human government, especially of any free government existing under a written constitution, to interfere with the exercise of that will,” Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote at the time.
“But it is equally true that, in every well ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members, the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand.”
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Shawn Luiz, did not return calls for comment.
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