American Constitution Society | November 4, 2014Read the Publication
As fears of Ebola sweep the nation, several governors are instituting quarantine and other restrictive policies based on fear, not science. These appear to reflect political agendas and responding to the public’s clamoring for greater protection, expressed as an over-abundance of caution. But the rule of law stands precisely to prevent the state from depriving individuals of liberty based on irrational or exaggerated public fear. Legal standards on the state’s police powers to protect the public’s health and safety are well developed. Civil confinement of individuals who have not committed an offense is a massive deprivation of liberty that requires a clear justification beyond public fear. State statutes and constitutional law require sound scientific evidence of significant risk, reflecting a delicate balance between public health and civil liberties. Current quarantines (and calls for travel bans) are reminiscent of 19th Century views of walling off borders, which is impossible in a modern globalized world.