Jacobson v. Massachusetts

(Redirected from 197 U.S. 11)

Jacobson v. Massachusetts  (1905) 
by John Marshall Harlan

Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court upheld the authority of states to enforce compulsory vaccination laws. The Court's decision articulated the view that the freedom of the individual must sometimes be subordinated to the common welfare and is subject to the police power of the state.

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

197 U.S. 11

Jacobson  v.  Massachusetts

 Argued: December 6, 1904 --- Decided: February 20, 1905

This case involves the validity, under the Constitution of the United States, of certain provisions in the statutes of Massachusetts relating to vaccination.

The Revised Laws of that commonwealth, chap. 75, § 137, provide that 'the board of health of a city or town, if, in its opinion, it is necessary for the public health or safety, shall require and enforce the vaccination and revaccination of all the inhabitants thereof, and shall provide them with the means of free vaccination. Whoever, being over twenty-one years of age and not under guardianship, refuses or neglects to comply with such requirement shall forfeit $5.'

An exception is made in favor of 'children who present a certificate, signed by a registered physician, that they are unfit subjects for vaccination.' § 139.

Proceeding under the above statutes, the board of health of the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the 27th day of February, 1902, adopted the following regulation: 'Whereas, smallpox has been prevalent to some extent in the city of Cambridge, and still continues to increase; and whereas, it is necessary for the speedy extermination of the disease that all persons not protected by vaccination should be vaccinated; and whereas, in the opinion of the board, the public health and safety require the vaccination or revaccination of all the inhabitants of Cambridge; be it ordered, that all the inhabitants habitants of the city who have not been successfully vaccinated since March 1st, 1897, be vaccinated or revaccinated.'

Subsequently, the board adopted an additional regulation empowering a named physician to enforce the vaccination of persons as directed by the board at its special meeting of February 27th.

The above regulations being in force, the plaintiff in error, Jacobson, was proceeded against by a criminal complaint in one of the inferior courts of Massachusetts. The complaint charged that on the 17th day of July, 1902, the board of health of Cambridge, being of the opinion that it was necessary for the public health and safety, required the vaccination and revaccination of all the inhabitants thereof who had not been successfully vaccinated since the 1st day of March, 1897, and provided them with the means of free vaccination; and that the defendant, being over twenty-one years of age and not under guardianship, refused and neglected to comply with such requirement.

The defendant, having been arraigned, pleaded not guilty. The government put in evidence the above regulations adopted by the board of health, and made proof tending to show that its chairman informed the defendant that, by refusing to be vaccinated, he would incur the penalty provided by the statute, and would be prosecuted therefor; that he offered to vaccinate the defendant without expense to him; and that the offer was declined, and defendant refused to be vaccinated.

The prosecution having introduced no other evidence, the defendant made numerous offers of proof. But the trial court ruled that each and all of the facts offered to be proved by the defendant were immaterial, and excluded all proof of them.

The defendant, standing upon his offers of proof, and introducing no evidence, asked numerous instructions to the jury, among which were the following:

That § 137 of chapter 75 of the Revised Laws of Massachusetts was in derogation of the rights secured to the defendant by the preamble to the Constitution of the United States, and tended to subvert and defeat the purposes of the Constitution as declared in its preamble;

That the section referred to was in derogation of the rights secured to the defendant by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and especially of the clauses of that amendment providing that no state shall make or enforce any law abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws; and

That said section was opposed to the spirit of the Constitution.

Each of defendant's prayers for instructions was rejected, and he duly excepted. The defendant requested the court, but the court refused, to instruct the jury to return a verdict of not guilty. And the court instructed structed the jury, in substance, that, if they believed the evidence introduced by the commonwealth, and were satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of the offense charged in the complaint, they would be warranted in finding a verdict of guilty. A verdict of guilty was thereupon returned.

The case was then continued for the opinion of the supreme judicial court of Massachusetts. Santa F e Pacific Railroad Company, the exceptions, sustained the action of the trial court, and thereafter, pursuant to the verdict of the jury, he was sentenced by the court to pay a fine of $5. And the court ordered that he stand committed until the fine was paid.

Messrs. George Fred Williams and James A. Halloran for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 14-18 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Frederick H. Nash and Herbert Parker for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 18-22 intentionally omitted]

Mr. Justice Harlan delivered the opinion of the court:


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).