A New York judge overturned a law that allowed the state government to place even healthy citizens in quarantine camps for an indefinite time without review.
Until July 8, the New York Department of Health had immense power to enforce quarantine measures on citizens. It received this power from the state’s Rule 2.13.
Legislators never voted to allow the New York Commissioner of Health to put any individual into quarantine for any length of time.
Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Department of Health ordered the rule's protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then, the state renewed Rule 2.13 every 90 days. The commissioner wanted to make the rule permanent, respondents told the court.
The court overturned Rule 2.13, stating that the executive branch had wrongly used legislative authority.
“Involuntary detention is a severe deprivation of individual liberty, far more egregious than other health safety measures, such as requiring mask wearing at certain venues,” the court’s opinion read.
“Involuntary quarantine may have far-reaching consequences such as loss of income [or employment] and isolation from family.”
The court barred state enforcement of Rule 2.13 because the executive branch lacked the authority to introduce it. But the court decision also condemned the rule for its failure to consider individual freedom or due process.
“The commissioner has unfettered discretion to issue a quarantine or isolation for anyone, even if there is no evidence that person is infected or a carrier of the disease. Further, the commissioner sets the terms, duration, and location of the detention, not an independent magistrate,” the court document read.
Previous New York laws about quarantine protected individual rights, it added.
But Rule 2.13 put all power into the hands of the commissioner of health, the document stated.
In the 1953 New York quarantine law, isolation can only happen after a complex process.
First, a doctor must report someone who is currently sick with a contagious disease to government health officers.
Then, the health officers must investigate and report their findings to a magistrate, who can then hold a quarantine hearing.
People isolated under the rule only got a judicial review and the right to a lawyer after they were put in quarantine, the court wrote.
This order offered only “lip service” to constitutional due process.
“These protections are after-the-fact and would force the detainee to exercise these rights at a time when he or she is already detained, possibly isolated from home and family, and in a situation where it might be difficult to obtain legal counsel in a timely manner,” the court decision read.
The case was the result of a pro bono lawsuit by attorney Bobbie Anne Cox.
However, laws like the New York one still exist in other states.