Judge Cites Smallpox-Era Standard to Reject Challenge to NY Travel Quarantine

The judge cited a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on mandatory smallpox vaccines to justify New York's travel quarantine

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A federal judge in upstate New York rejected a constitutional challenge to New York's quarantine rules for travelers from high-risk states, finding a 115-year-old legal precedent required deference to the state's decision.

The suit, filed in early July, alleged New York's quarantine order violated the plaintiff's right to travel. But Judge David Hurd, in a 25-page ruling on the matter, said the 1905 Supreme Court decision in Jacobson vs. Massachusetts gave governments wide latitude in the middle of a pandemic.

That ruling, which stemmed from a lawsuit over mandatory smallpox vaccinations, effectively created a separate standard for "evaluating constitutional challenges to state action designed to combat an epidemic."

"Jacobson was decided just after the turn of the last century, at a time when medical science was in its adolescence if not still in its infancy. Because it endorses an approach to constitutional analysis that has fallen out of fashion, it is admittedly strange—and even a little alarming—to discover that Jacobson is still considered the right tool for evaluating state action taken to protect public health," Judge Hurd wrote.

"Yet unless and until the Supreme Court revisits Jacobson and fashions a test that demands a more particularized showing from public health officials in light of the unbelievable medical achievements of the twenty-first century, it remains a complete roadblock to (the plaintiff's) claims."

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