State Constitutionalism and the Right to Health Care

82 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2009 Last revised: 2 Oct 2015

See all articles by Elizabeth Weeks

Elizabeth Weeks

University of Georgia School of Law

Date Written: June 17, 2009


This Article examines state constitutions and health care rights. Notably, close to a third of states’ constitutions recognize health while the U.S. Constitution contains no reference. Ample scholarly commentary exists on the absence of a right to health care under the U.S. Constitution but little attention has been paid to state constitutional law. This Article begins by explaining the absence of a federal right and the rationale for looking to state constitutional protections for health. The Article then provides a comprehensive survey of state constitutional provisions and judicial decisions enforcing or interpreting them. The survey reveals certain common themes and limits, which the Article catalogues and analyzes. The conclusion is that state constitutions, although providing stronger textual support for health than the U.S. Constitution, do not, when applied, provide significantly greater guarantees. Nevertheless, state constitutional recognition of health, as well as proposed state constitutional amendments that would expressly recognize health rights, serve as important catalysts for federal and state legislation.

Keywords: State constitutionalism, health care, rights

JEL Classification: I10, I18, 138, K10, K40

Suggested Citation

Leonard, Elizabeth, State Constitutionalism and the Right to Health Care (June 17, 2009). University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, Vol. 12, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth Leonard (Contact Author)

University of Georgia School of Law ( email )

225 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602
United States


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