COVID-19 and the Law

COVID-19 and the Law

  • The Right to Education in the Midst of a Pandemic
    COVID-19 exposes the necessity of accessible education for all students and begs us to reconsider education as a fundamental right under substantive due process. In light of this current health crisis, now is the time to consider the many inequities in access to education that have existed for centuries. As schools across the nation consider their modality of instruction for the school year, equitable education for students should be a primary concern for government, policy makers, and school systems. This…

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  • Protecting Disabled and Aged Patients From Discriminatory Triage Protocols
    With COVID-19 cases surging across the country, many hospitals will soon face the unthinkable—having too few resources to treat all patients in need. Already overrun, some hospitals have had to make the choice to ration Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, ventilators, and other lifesaving care. Anticipating increased demand, many states have issued Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) that include guiding principles and criteria for allocating scarce resources. Patient advocates have challenged the triage protocols incorporated into some state CSC guidelines…

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  • Can President Trump Withhold Funds When States Expand Vote-by-Mail?
    In now-deleted tweets by President Trump, Trump claimed that Michigan sent “absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election.” He alleged that the move was done “illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State” and continued onward to say “I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!” Of course, the Secretary of State of Michigan had done nothing of the sort; instead,…

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  • Remote Witnesses and Wills
    The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a surge in the number of Americans using online services to make wills. If people are subject to shelter-in-place orders, however, the witnessing condition required by statutory law is not readily satisfied—the testator and two witnesses cannot occupy the same physical place at the same time. While some states have temporarily allowed remote witnessing, such relief has not been uniformly implemented across the country. Thus, an instrument prepared online may fail to fulfill a decedent’s…

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  • COVID-19 and the Shadow Docket: The Supreme Court and the Pandemic
    The Supreme Court has two dockets. The first—and far more public—docket comprises the roughly eighty cases each Term that undergo extensive briefing and oral arguments before the Court. These cases can take months, or even more than a year, from the filing of a cert petition to issuance of an opinion by the Court. The second, often referred to as the “shadow docket,” includes a number of requests for emergency equitable relief. For cases on the shadow docket, the Court…

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  • Abuse of Contract and the July 2020 Bar Exam
    This summer, the Kansas Board of Law Examiners (KBE) is demanding that all examinees sign a statement that they have “voluntarily” assumed COVID-related risks before they sit for the July 2020 bar examination. According to the July 2020 Kansas Bar Examination Examinee Code of Conduct Agreement (KS Code of Conduct Agreement) recently distributed by the KBE, if an examinee fails to sign and return the KS Code of Conduct Agreement by July 15, “the examinee will not be allowed to…

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  • Access to Public Lands During the COVID-19 Pandemic
    In an effort to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, federal, state, and local governments have acted to limit or entirely close off access to public outdoor spaces, such as local playgrounds and state and national parks. As the country begins to reopen, governments have sought to balance the need for public access to these outdoor spaces with the risks posed by such access. Where the risks are too high—whether because of the challenge of ensuring compliance with social…

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  • Do Prisoners Have a Right to Soap?
    In the ongoing litigation regarding prison conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, one request of the litigants stands out: they want more soap. And sometimes—especially at the district court level—prisoners have been able to get that soap. In a Texas case, Valentine v. Collier, the district court ordered the prison to “[p]rovide [p]laintiffs and the class members with unrestricted access to hand soap and disposable hand towels to facilitate handwashing.” Similarly, in Swain v. Junior, a Florida district court required that…

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  • Your Right to Sue, Goodnight!
    Oh, the sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home‘Tis summer, the old folks are gayWhere the corn top’s ripe and the meadow’s in the bloomWhile the birds make music all the day Weep no more, my ladyOh, weep no more todayWe’ll sing one songFor my old Kentucky homeFor my old Kentucky home, far away Well the young folks roll all around the cabin floorThey’re merry, all happy and brightBy-and-by hard times will come a-knocking at my doorThen my old…

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  • Trump Weaponizes COVID-19 Against Illegal Immigrants
    As a criminal defense attorney in the border city of El Paso, Texas, I meet with illegal immigrants weekly, if not daily. I witness their journey firsthand. I represented families when President Trump piloted his family separation policy in El Paso. Today, I am witnessing yet another Trump assault against brown immigrants. Trump is weaponizing COVID-19. President Trump’s anti-immigration resume is extensive. It boasts, among other things, his threat to shut down the government if it doesn’t fund his “big,…

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  • Remember the Past: What Can a Governor Do When the Second COVID-19 Surge Comes?
    Back on January 1st we thought that 2020 would bring clarity of vision and foresight. Since then the world has turned upside down; however, long-standing legal precedent of what states can do in times of epidemics and pandemics has not. Many are claiming that it is unlawful for any governmental entity or official, in an effort to reduce COVID-19 infections and deaths, to impose restrictions upon travel, either across state borders or in large crowds within a state. I disagree….

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  • Korematsu, COVID-19, and The Question of Executive Deference
    “Wrong the day it was decided” is a judgment that the Supreme Court reserves for overturning its most egregious prior decisions. One of the cases that most recently received that declaration is Korematsu v. United States, a decision that infamously sanctioned the World War II internment of individuals of Japanese ancestry. The Court’s repudiation of that decision, equal parts laudable and belated, offers hope that the logic of this decision is a relic of the past, but such hope may…

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  • Experimental Drug Could Curb Emerging COVID Mental Health Crisis
    As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, experts warn it is triggering a national mental health crisis. Some say it could cause up to 75,000 U.S. deaths by suicide and drug overdose. Millions may experience lasting grief from losing loved ones, depression due to unemployment, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from working on the frontlines as healthcare providers and other essential workers.  Traditional medications for mental illness, such as the antidepressants fluoxetine and paroxetine, are ineffective in about half of those who try them….

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  • Federalism and Communicative Confusion in the Time of COVID-19
    The states, rather than the federal government, have taken the lead in responding to COVID-19. This is in part because states have broad police powers that allow them to enact measures like stay-at-home orders. It is also because the federal government has avoided issuing guidance, even suppressing a recent CDC report, which has left the states without central coordination. Some praise this strategy as a prudent invocation of federalism. But any evaluation of the federalism benefits must account for the…

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  • Constitutional Constraints on Lawyer Licensing in the Age of COVID-19
    The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly disrupted the courts and the legal profession, just when access to justice is most needed. The public health crisis has generated a host of legal issues in areas as diverse as disaster relief, health law, disability issues, insurance, employment law, criminal justice, domestic violence, and civil rights. The need for lawyers to address these issues is great, but courts are struggling to license new lawyers due to the serious health consequences of administering the bar…

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  • Custody and Visitation in a Pandemic
    Either voluntarily or through court order, most separated and divorced parents have established parenting plans that outline custody and visitation obligations. But what happens to these orders when a global pandemic rages through our communities?  Can parents unilaterally  refuse to engage in custodial transfers or keep the other parent from visiting while a government shelter-in-place order is in place? Anecdotally, family law attorneys report that the single biggest issue for their clients right now seems to be whether the regular…

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  • True Causes of Racial Disparities in the COVID-19 Pandemic
    To the shock of those unfamiliar with racial health disparities in the United States, African Americans (and other racial minorities) have been infected with, and died from, COVID-19 at a much higher rate than white Americans. The explanation given by Dr. Anthony Fauci (Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and high profile member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force), Dr. Jerome M. Adams (United States Surgeon General), and other health professionals is that African Americans…

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  • COVID Lays Bare the Need for Attending to Second Amendment Theory
    As angry protesters, some clad in tactical gear and armed with semi-automatic rifles, storm state capitols to decry COVID-related orders, it’s worth asking why the Second Amendment resides in our Bill of Rights. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court held that it was there because the founding fathers wanted to protect the existence of citizen militias. But the reason for codifying the right, said the five-Justice majority, did not confine its substantive scope—of law-abiding citizens “to keep and…

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  • The Dormant Commerce Clause and COVID-19 State-Ordered Business Closures
    Parties have begun filing lawsuits seeking to “reopen” their states. These lawsuits challenge business closures and stay-at-home orders mandated by state and local governments. The Supreme Court has acknowledged, in the due process context, “the authority of a State to enact quarantine laws and ‘health laws of every description.’” Beyond due process, however, at least one of these lawsuits has raised dormant commerce clause issues, contending that, by ordering businesses to close, the state is unconstitutionally interfering with Congress’ Article…

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  • Data Control and Surveillance in the COVID-19 Response
    In a paper published last month, we argue that the emerging emphasis on digital technologies in the global tuberculosis (TB) response is ushering in a new era of data colonization and surveillance in the name of public health. We assert that, despite some promise, digital adherence technologies for TB create copious amounts of data that threaten to infringe human rights, ultimately hindering the disease response. The elephant in the room (or in the paper), of course, is the coronavirus outbreak…

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  • HOAs and Residents with COVID-19
    The coronavirus quarantine has led many states to issue stay-at-home orders on the plausible theory that doing so will cause individuals to be isolated from others and less likely to catch or spread the virus. Yet for many people, “home” is not a place of complete isolation, but involves shared space where residents come into repeated contact with each other in order to wash clothes, step outside, or pick up an Instacart order. Condominium complexes, for example, entail sole ownership…

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  • Cruel Exposure in Unusual Times
    In ordinary times, the conditions on Rikers Island have been unconscionably bad. Now, with the rapid spread of coronavirus, they have become unconstitutionally deadly. Of the more than 1,300 cases that have developed in prisons, 370 come from Rikers alone. And the first inside to die of the disease, Michael Tyson, passed away on April 5th. Rikers Chief Physician, Dr. Ross MacDonald, broke from his practice of silent, anonymous service to bring attention to the fact that the virus spreads…

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  • Life Hangs in the Balance: Weighing Coronavirus Church Closings Against the RFRA
    On March 27, the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group unanimously issued an order restricting the gatherings of non-essential businesses and services. The Rev. Rodney Howard-Browne responded that he would only cancel church services for the Rapture and that pastors who canceled services were “pansies.” After holding church services on March 29, county authorities arrested Howard-Browne for unlawful assembly and violating the public health emergency order. While the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993 applies only to the federal government,…

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  • The Right to Repair in a Pandemic
    In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies, organizations, and individuals have used 3D printing and other measures to address supply chain gaps, producing spare parts and products such as ventilator tube splitters, nasopharyngeal swabs, and face shields. To facilitate similar efforts, the National Institute of Health has created a 3D print exchange to share models and increase production, but it has not generally approved the use of these 3D printed products. Additionally, the FDA has adopted an emergency use authorization…

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  • Vaccines and IP Preparedness in the Coronavirus Outbreak
    The COVID-19 pandemic has shed renewed light on the importance of research and development (R&D) on biopharmaceutical products needed to prevent or lessen the burden posed by outbreaks of infectious diseases. Among these, the need for new vaccines has become of paramount importance. While a race to develop different types of vaccines unfolds at unusual speed, there are still significant shortcomings in the ecosystem that leads to the production and dissemination of vaccines targeting infectious diseases like COVID-19. In the…

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  • Korematsu in the Age of COVID – A Note on The Constitution in Times of Crisis
    The case of Korematsu v. United States lives in constitutional infamy as the case which upheld the military policy of Japanese internment during WWII. In doing so, the Court—led by former KKK member Justice Black—did not deny that Japanese internment constituted a deprivation of constitutional rights. Instead, they found that the deprivation was justified due to the fact that the United States was at war. Because of this justification, Korematsu is one of several cases which stands for the proposition…

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  • Multi-Level Marketer Social Media Presence During COVID-19 Provokes FTC
    MLMs and Why They Matter DoTERRA essential oils and other multi-level marketers (MLMs) are in trouble. Their social media presence during the COVID-19 crisis provoked Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforcement action in late April. But what exactly are MLMs and why are they particularly relevant during the COVID-19 crisis? MLMs sell their products directly to consumers, but, rather than using a central distribution system, they rely on a representative network for sales and recruiting. This system creates multiple levels of…

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  • COVID-19 Phobias About Health, Finances, Law, Leadership, and Loneliness
    COVID-19 is not just a medical and physical health pandemic; it has also led to interrelated phobias concerning health, finances, law, leadership, and loneliness. These interconnected phobias feed off each other and can alter a person’s decision-making, risk perception, and self-identity. They also create and increase anxious feelings in sufferers. Anxious people seek and take more advice, have impaired information processing and lower self-confidence, fail to differentiate between advisors with and without conflicts of interest, and fail to discern good…

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  • South Dakota’s COVID-19 Response is a Battleground for Tribal Sovereignty
    In a May 5 post Assistant Attorney General for the Navajo Nation Department of Justice Paul Spruhan argued that Indian tribes should have authority to restrict movement through their territories in order to stem the tide of the COVID-19 epidemic. Those very principles are now being put to the test in South Dakota, where Gov. Kristi Noem has demanded that Oglala Sioux tribal leaders remove the checkpoints set up to regulate traffic through the reservation. Gov. Noem has previously come…

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  • Sorry, Not Sorry: Temporary Practice in a Pandemic
    The American Bar Association (ABA) Board of Governors has issued a policy resolution urging states to adopt emergency rules that would authorize recent law graduates to engage in supervised law practice until the COVID-19 pandemic allows administration of the next bar exam. The ABA’s guidance encourages states to terminate these limited licenses if an applicant does not take or pass a bar examination by the end of 2021. This resolution sends a mixed message: On the one hand, emergency licensing…

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  • Zoom Justice: When Constitutional Rights Collide in Cyberspace
    Criminal courts throughout the United States have relied upon Zoom and other videoconferencing technologies to help maintain a functioning criminal justice system amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, such technology, in place of in-person trials, potentially violates several constitutional rights afforded to the accused, and might force them to choose to exercise one right guaranteed to them by the Sixth Amendment at the expense of another. Specifically, the accused might now confront two critical constitutional choices: (1) the right to a…

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  • COVID-19 and Indian Country: A Legal Dispatch from the Navajo Nation
    There has been much press coverage on the Navajo Nation’s struggle to contain the spread of COVID-19 on its lands. As of May 2, 2020, the Nation has 2,373 confirmed cases, and more than seventy deaths from the virus. These reports have noted the practical impediments the Nation faces in responding to the pandemic, including a high population of people with pre-existing health problems, the lack of easy access to health care, and the significant number of families without running…

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  • Protecting Our Health Care Providers from Liability in a Pandemic
    While COVID-19 creates profound medical concerns for health care providers, it also creates fear of potential lawsuits. Clinicians are forced to ration scarce resources, such as ventilators, when there is an inadequate supply. Medical professionals describe chaos in hospitals that makes it extremely difficult to treat all patients appropriately. Patients have had elective surgeries postponed indefinitely. Worse yet, some, including cancer patients, have had essential operations cancelled. All of these circumstances could lead to serious patient harm and subsequent litigation….

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  • Essential but Excluded: Vending in the Time of Corona
    Immigrants, those with legal status and those without, individuals returning from incarceration, and individuals with time-consuming childcare and other family obligations often look to start microenterprises like street vending to provide for themselves and their families. However, many municipalities in the United States apply a penal approach to street vending, criminalizing it as a form of vagrancy. Even Los Angeles, a city known for its street vending culture, criminalized the practice outright until 2019. Other cities have permitted vendors to…

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  • Vote-by-Mail Can Save Our Democracy, But Reforms Are Needed
    As the world turns to strategies to stave off the worst effects of the novel coronavirus, now is the time to double down on our commitment to democracy. States around the country are pushing back primary and runoff elections in the hope that, if held at a later time, election procedures can return to the “old normal.” While states can postpone their primaries, they cannot postpone the November 2020 general election. As COVID-19 becomes a leading cause of death in…

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  • Closed for Business – Open for Litigation?
    Can a business-closure regulation of commercial property in a pandemic be a taking?  In the midst of a pandemic, it generally falls to government to enact laws and regulations in an effort to curtail the spread of disease. For example, the Supreme Court discusses compulsory vaccination in Jacobson v. Massachusetts and quarantines in Smith v. Turner.  In a liberty-oriented constitutional federalist democratic republic like America, this can be challenging–indeed, the volume of published opinions in this area of law show…

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  • Surveillance Intrusiveness in a Pandemic
    Government surveillance capabilities have always been a matter of public concern, but the current pandemic makes the issue especially salient. We set out to discover what Americans think of government surveillance during this crisis. Americans have been inundated with media reports of novel forms of public health surveillance since the crisis began. Apple and Google just announced a partnership to create a smartphone contact-tracing application, which would use Bluetooth to trace a person’s movement and contacts. Apple is also using…

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  • Protests During the Pandemic
    As a general rule, the government is permitted to restrict activities, including protesting, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government can regulate the time, place, and manner of speech in public forums with a content neutral restriction so long as the restriction is narrowly tailored to “serve a significant government interest” and “leave[s] open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.” A shelter-in-place order can constitutionally prevent public gatherings for a period of time (many of these orders are in…

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  • A Legal Stimulus
    We need a legal stimulus. Not just a stimulus that is legal, but one that provides legal aid. That is why any further congressional stimulus should allocate additional funds specifically for legal services to individuals who, as a result of COVID-19, face eviction, foreclosure, loan defaults, debt collection, bankruptcy, domestic violence, or denied insurance claims or coverage. The need is dire. These looming crises from the pandemic will hit, but mostly after the initial health scare has dampened, the executive orders are lifted,…

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  • Deterring Viral Pandemics of COVID-19 Misinformation
    As the coronavirus spreads across the United States, so does an info-demic of dangerous misinformation threatening public health. UN Secretary-General António Guterres characterized this misinfo-demic as a “secondary disease” that needlessly threatens public health, observing that “[h]armful health advice and snake-oil solutions are proliferating.” A U.S. Attorney similarly warned Americans to be “extremely wary of outlandish medical claims and false promises of immense profits.” “[O]ver 4,000 coronavirus-related domains—that is, they contain words like “corona” or “covid” —have been registered since…

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  • The Necessity of Firearm Stores During the COVID-19 Pandemic
    Gun owners and would-be gun purchasers are arguing that state measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus infringe on their Second Amendment rights. To the extent the premise is correct—the Second Amendment guarantees access to a firearm store—it’s not clear that their conclusion follows. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, forty-five states have issued statewide stay at home orders. These orders are based upon guidance from the Center for Disease Control and other public health agencies that have…

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  • Stay-at-Home, Videoconferencing, and a Baptism of Fire for the California Consumer Privacy Act
    The novel coronavirus COVID-19 has rapidly become one of the worst public health crises in U.S. history. Yet this is not only a critical moment for health, but also for privacy. With social isolation orders in forty-two states, as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam, collaborative technological services—such as such as video conferencing, file sharing, mobile apps, and video games—have taken an even more preeminent role in our social and work lives. The increasing importance of these technologies…

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  • Prisons in the time of COVID-19
    The current COVID-19 public health crisis has rendered the nation’s jails and prisons ticking time bombs. In the confined spaces of the carceral system the infection flourishes. At Rikers Island in New York City the rate of infection among the incarcerated population is an estimated seven times that of the free population. The Cook County Jail in Chicago boasts the highest infection rate in the country. Inmates post desperate pleas for help on their cell windows: “Help we matter2.” In…

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