Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares delivered a legal opinion on Friday arguing that state universities do not possess the authority to require students to receive the COVID jab as a condition for enrollment or attendance of in-person classes.
Addressed to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, the opinion notes that while “Virginia’s public institutions of higher education are public corporations” and “are afforded separate corporate status,” they ultimately “remain under control of the General Assembly and may only exercise such powers as the General Assembly has expressly conferred or necessarily implied.”
“The General Assembly has [also] enacted statutes governing specific aspects of university operations such as student health. … With regard to immunizations, the General Assembly has made clear the immunizations that are required for a student to enroll in an institution of higher education. Under § 23.1-800 of the Code of Virginia, ‘each student shall be immunized by vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, measles (rubeola), German measles (rubella), and mumps’ prior to enrollment ‘for the first time in any baccalaureate public institution of higher education,’” Miyares wrote.
“Under long-established law, ‘[w]hen faced with a choice between a specific and general statute, the former is controlling.’ Thus, when determining what immunizations a university may require its students to receive, § 23.1-800, as the more specific statute governing student vaccination, takes precedence over the more general authority provided to boards under § 23.1-1301,” he continued.
Miyares went on to argue that while the General Assembly “authorized public institutions of higher education to assist the Department of Health and local health departments in the administration” of the COVID jabs, the legislation “did not grant such institutions power to impose vaccine requirements.”
“To date, the General Assembly has not amended the specific immunizations enumerated in § 23.1-800 to include immunization for COVID-19, and boards of visitors may not exercise an implied power to require a certain vaccine when a specific statute governing vaccination excludes it,” he wrote. “For the reasons stated herein, I conclude that, absent specific authority conferred by the General Assembly, public institutions of higher education in Virginia may not require vaccination against COVID-19 as a general condition of students’ enrollment or in-person attendance.”
Although state institutions, such as universities, are barred from mandating COVID jabs for their employees under an executive directive from Youngkin, the governor’s action does not pertain to college students. When asked if Youngkin would take any action to prohibit student COVID jab mandates based upon Miyares’s opinion, his communications team did not immediately respond to The Federalist’s request for comment.
The opinion from Miyares comes as students across the commonwealth are pushing back against their university’s unethical COVID booster requirements. At George Mason University, nearly 1,000 students have signed a petition demanding that the school’s administration revoke the current booster mandate, arguing that it “seeks to obtain compliance through coercion, rather than allowing for a truly free and voluntary choice.”
George Mason University did not immediately return The Federalist’s request for comment on whether the school would adhere to the legal opinion issued by the attorney general.
Shawn Fleetwood is an intern at The Federalist and a student at the University of Mary Washington, where he plans to major in Political Science and minor in Journalism. He also serves as a state content writer for Convention of States Action. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnFleetwood