Defining the Field of Public Health Law

15 DePaul Journal of Health Care Law 45 (2013)

48 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2012 Last revised: 6 Mar 2014

See all articles by Micah L. Berman

Micah L. Berman

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Date Written: June 1, 2013


This article sets forth a proposed definition of public health law and provides the first comprehensive examination of whether it is now time to recognize public health law as a distinct field of legal academia.

Although the amount of scholarship relating to public health law has increased significantly over the past decade, public health law remains largely unrecognized as a legal field, hidden under the shadow of health law. Yet the perspective of public health law is quite distinct from – and in some ways the direct opposite of – the perspective typically employed by scholars of health law.

This article argues that public health law meets the tests of 'commonality and distinctiveness' required for a field of law. Public health law applies a mode of legal analysis derived from the science of public health that focuses on prevention and populations. This perspective not only provides a coherent focus to the field, it also provides a distinct lens of analysis that could enrich the study of numerous other fields of law. As legal analysis often operates through categories (cases are conceptualized as contracts cases, torts cases, an environmental cases, etc.), bringing public health law to the forefront as its own discipline could powerfully reshape the way in which cases with substantial health-related implications are approached. Thus, recognition of public health law as a discrete field could lead both academics and courts to reconceptualize legal issues where the public health dimensions have previously been ignored or undervalued.

Keywords: public health law, health law

Suggested Citation

Berman, Micah, Defining the Field of Public Health Law (June 1, 2013). 15 DePaul Journal of Health Care Law 45 (2013), Available at SSRN: or

Micah Berman (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

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