Addressing the Constitutionality of Federal Quarantine Rules

In response to the spread of Ebola and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome across the United States, in 2017 federal health agencies issued regulations that authorize U.S. officials to isolate people exposed to an infectious disease. But in a recent paper, scholars argue that these so-called quarantine regulations raise serious constitutional problems because they open the door to “particularly extreme deprivations of liberty,” such as the arbitrary and indefinite confinement of people in government facilities. Given the risk of constitutional violations posed by the quarantine regulations, the federal government should only exert its quarantine powers in cases where disease transmission risks are high and life-threatening, argue Boston University’s Michael R. Ulrich and Wendy K. Mariner. Instead, they say the federal government should implement initiatives that empower Americans to make preventive health decisions on their own, without fear of coercive…

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