Constitutional Challenges to Public Health Orders in Federal Courts during the COVID-19 Pandemic
34 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2021
Date Written: August 1, 2021
We examine federal judicial cases involving non-religious civil-liberties challenges to COVID-19-related public health orders from the start of the pandemic to June 29, 2021. Consistent with the tradition of judicial deference toward the state during emergencies, we find a high level of success for governments. However, governments did lose in 13.7% of the cases, and in those losses, there is evidence of partisan or ideological influence. Republican-appointed judges were more likely to rule in favor of challengers when they brought claims based on gun rights and property rights, while Democratic-appointed judges were more likely to rule in favor of challengers when they brought claims based on abortion rights. We conclude by arguing that courts should exercise greater deference to public health orders issued during emergencies.
Keywords: COVID-19, judicial review, judicial deference, constitutional rights
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