The Legal Authority for States’ Stay-at-Home Orders

(This op-ed was first published in The New England Journal of Medicine on June 3, 2020.)

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In March 2020, when many U.S. states and localities issued their first emergency orders to address Covid-19, there was widespread acceptance of the government’s legal authority to respond quickly and aggressively to this unprecedented crisis. Today, that acceptance is fraying. As initial orders expire and states move to extend or modify them, legal challenges have sprouted.1 The next phase of the pandemic response will see restrictions dialed up and down as threat levels change.2 As public and political resistance grows, further legal challenges are inevitable.

The shape of these challenges is already morphing (see table). Early cases alleged that stay-at-home orders violate individual rights.

(Continue reading the op-ed on The New England Journal of Medicine’s page here.)

Mark A. Hall is from Wake Forest University Schools of Law and Medicine, Wake Forest, NC (M.A.H.); Michelle Mello and David Studdert are both from Stanford Law School and Stanford University School of Medicine — both in Stanford, CA (M.M.M., D.M.S.).