“Everything law is health law.” Charity Scott, founding director of the Center for Law, Health, and Society at Georgia State University College of Law, has said this many times during her career in health law. With more than 200,000 deaths in the United States, the legal issues arising from responding to the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the truth of this statement.
The outbreak has affected every area of law – constitutional law, business law, labor law, family law, education, housing, and even criminal law. Georgia State Law faculty members have responded to the legal issues of the pandemic through policy development, research, and the advocacy. These are just a few of the many examples.
In March, city and county state and local governments began imposing “rest-at-home” mandates and restrictions on public gatherings in an effort to fight the spread of disease. Some churches challenged the ordinances as a violation of religious freedom of the first amendment. In the article “Forced Closure of Houses of God During Coronavirus: Both Legal and Proper” Eric SegallProfessor of Law Kathy and Lawrence Ashe and co-author shared constitutional support for including religious services in bans on large gatherings: “Not only is it perfectly legal under both state and federal law to apply general closure laws during this crisis ravaging millions of Americans in many different settings to places of worship; It is obviously right for the American people. “
New to Georgia State Law, Assistant Professor Anthony Circle In his article “Contagion and the Right to Travel” he also dealt with constitutional issues. Government travel restrictions for short-term visitors or the obligation of travelers to quarantine raise questions about dormant trade clauses. “[T]The admissibility of public health orders from state officials restricting the movement of interstate travelers during a pandemic should be weighed against the characteristics of the disease, the adequacy of the jurisdiction (s) covered and the relative treatment of non-residents versus local residents, ”he said.
Several Georgia communities, including the city of Atlanta, issued mask mandates this summer. Governor Brian Kemp criticized these mandates as contradicting his statewide instructions. Clark CunninghamW. Lee Burge, Chair of Law and Ethics, spoke to Time and other media outlets about the lawsuit. The governor’s emergency powers, Cunningham said, give him the authority to “take steps to protect the health, safety and well-being of residents and visitors to Georgia to ensure that COVID-19 remains controlled across the state”. Preventing the city of Atlanta from having a more protective ordinance than the state can contradict that authority, especially if the virus goes unchecked.
With the easing of restrictions, business owners have raised concerns about liability for customers or employees who may be exposed to the virus in their operations. Distinguished University Professor Timothy Lytton has been quoted on a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, WSB, Legal Examiner, and LA Times. He presented his reasoning in both the interview and the regulatory review, stating that it would be extremely difficult to hold a company liable for a single contractor of COVID-19 unless that company had not acted with reasonable care. “Liability immunity could encourage companies to be less careful about preventing the transmission of COVID-19,” he warned.
COVID-19 has exacerbated health disparities in underserved communities. Director of the Center for Access to Justice, Lauren Sudealland Center for Comparative Study of the Metropolitan Growth Professor John Marshallco-wrote with her co-authors, “Towards a Response to COVID-19 in Georgia”, arguing that housing stability is critical to public health, economic resilience and child protection. Among other things, they pushed for an extension of the moratoria on foreclosures and evictions. Sudeall was also a co-author of Courts in Crisis: Investigating the Impact of COVID-19 on the Eviction Court in Georgia, which described Georgia’s decentralized judicial system and the differentiated response to the emergency order by the Georgian Supreme Court to suspend non-essential judicial functions. The fragmented guidelines mean that tenants across the state will be treated differently during and after the pandemic, and all parties may have difficulty managing the eviction process.
In her chapter on housing in “Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19,” a report by Public Health Law Watch, Associate Professor Courtney Anderson warned that short-term corrections alone are not enough: “These people face challenges other than housing, and their race and socioeconomic status put them at greater risk of health inequalities.” At the federal level, in addition to recommending amendments to the Aid Act , Aid and Economic Security (CARES) from Coronavirus Changes to the Credit Improvement of Affordable Housing Act and Section 8 of the U.S. Housing Act. Recommendations at the state level included support for high-speed internet and utilities.
Susan Goico WalkerThe associate professor, director of the Olmstead Disability Clinic and director of the Disability Integration Project of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society worked with stakeholders across the country on an open letter to Governor Kemp. With the support of eleven organizations that make up the Georgia Developmental Disability Network, the letter called on the steps Georgia should take, stating: “All efforts must be expanded to ensure the protection of the civil rights of people with disabilities should not be medically or medically discriminated against socially during this difficult time. “
These and other legal issues were topics addressed in Public Health Law Watch’s COVID Legal Briefings series and included in its report. The American Public Health Association’s legal department co-sponsored the video series. Stacie Kershner (JD ’08), Assistant Director of the Center for Law, Health and Society and Program Planner for the Legal Department, supported communications at these events and organized a special panel discussion with several members of the national public health law experts at the upcoming APHA Annual Meeting.
The diversity of involvement and expertise of the Georgia State Law Faculty in response to COVID-19 underscores the range of legal issues set in motion by the pandemic. It underlines that all laws in a public health crisis of this magnitude, spanning disciplines and jurisdictions, are health law. However, a common theme has emerged: an effective public health response depends on promoting equity in all sectors of society.
Interim Dean Leslie Wolf named chairman of the Georgia State Public Health Preparedness Task Force