Federal judge denies bid by Chicago firefighters, other city employees to block vaccine mandates

U.S. District Judge John Lee spent nearly an hour explaining his decision and said, “This court cannot ignore the binding precedent of the Supreme Court or the 7th Circuit because plaintiffs find it to be antiquated.”

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The Dirksen Federal Courthouse, where Mustafaa Saleh pleaded guilty to wire fraud in the scheme involving the Cook County Land Bank Authority, the county agency where he formerly worked.

Dirksen Federal Courthouse

Sun-Times file

A federal judge denied Friday a request for a temporary restraining order sought by Chicago firefighters and other city employees against vaccine mandates from City Hall and Gov. J.B. Pritzker. 

U.S. District Judge John Lee spent nearly an hour explaining the basis of his decision, in which he found the city employees had not shown a likelihood of success on any of the claims they brought in a lawsuit earlier this month. 

But at the end of the afternoon hearing, the judge also told the lawyers to submit a proposed schedule by the end of next week outlining how they would gather evidence to help him consider a more significant preliminary injunction.

Lee’s decision came the same day a bid to scuttle the city’s vaccine mandate failed a vote by Chicago’s City Council, an event Lee noted in his ruling. Meanwhile, a Cook County judge has said he will deliver a ruling next week on whether the city must halt its mandate for police officers in a case involving the Fraternal Order of Police. 

The federal judge’s decision is not a surprise given questions he raised during a separate hearing earlier this week. Lawyer Jonathan Lubin argued at the time that he believed people have a right not to disclose their vaccination status. Lee furrowed his brow and said, “I’m puzzled. I look puzzled because I am puzzled.”

Then the judge asked, “Don’t we have to disclose medical information for all sorts of different activities?”

When Lubin argued the judge should consider the political nature of the vaccine, Lee told him, “I don’t care about the political.”

When it came to his ruling Friday, Lee addressed several points. Among them was the notion that a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court decision on vaccine mandates, bolstered by a recent decision from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, should be regarded as “part of a bygone era in American jurisprudence.” 

Lubin argued in a brief that the Supreme Court has since found “the right of privacy and the right of bodily autonomy trump a concern about the possible loss of life.” He said it did so in Roe v. Wade. 

But Lee pointed to multiple recent examples of the 1905 case being upheld as good law. He said “this court cannot ignore the binding precedent of the Supreme Court or the 7th Circuit because plaintiffs find it to be antiquated.”

Ultimately, the judge said he would not “second-guess the informed and rational scientific and public-policy judgments upon which the city and state have based their vaccine and COVID testing policies.”

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