• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court limited people’s ability to make general claims that their rights were protected by the “spirit” of the Constitution’s preamble or body.

Henning Jacobson refused to submit to a smallpox vaccination pursuant to a duly passed Massachusetts state law and Cambridge city ordinance and was fined five dollars. At trial, Jacobson insisted that the “spirit” of the Constitution’s preamble and the wording of the Fourteenth Amendment meant he did not have to submit to vaccination. He further attempted to assert that there might be unfavorable health consequences to vaccination, the risk of which he should not be required to endure.Constitution, U.S.;Jacobson v. Massachusetts[Jacobson v. Massachusetts]

By a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court rejected Jacobson’s claim that he could use the “spirit” of the Constitution’s preamble or the “spirit” of the body of the Constitution to assert rights, noting that the specific words of the document were all that could be used to invalidate a state statute. In the opinion for the Court, Justice John Marshall HarlanHarlan, John Marshall;Jacobson v. Massachusetts[Jacobson v. Massachusetts] noted that Jacobson could not show specific harm was likely to follow from his being vaccinated. The Court further asserted that a state did not have to show that every vaccination would be a complete success in order to impose on its citizens a medical procedure that had been shown to be more helpful than harmful to the vast majority of population in a situation involving a disease that was potentially epidemic. Justices David J. Brewer and Rufus W. Peckham dissented.

Due process, procedural

Due process, substantive

Fourteenth Amendment

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