Infectious Disease & the Law

In response to comments by H.M. Stuart & one Lee Pierson regarding Steve’s recent vaccination post, I figured I’d take a stab at the legal & constitutional aspects of mandatory vaccination & quarantine measures.  Note:  I’m a layman, not a lawyer, and I haven’t studied this matter in detail; so take what follows with a grain of salt.

1.       From a federal constitutional standpoint, mandatory vaccination is not analogous to the ACA’s individual mandate provision, since vaccination is primarily mandated by state – not federal – law.[1]  Such laws are enacted as part of states’ police power, which does not implicate the strictures of Article I.

2.       State sovereignty is not absolute; the Constitution places many limits upon state action,[2] and empowers federal courts[3] (and sometimes Congress[4]) to enforce these limits.  However, state vaccination mandates have long been deemed consistent with these limits.[5]

3.       Federal & state quarantine authorities derive from the Commerce Clause & state police powers, respectively.[6]  Federal law primarily concerns the military,[7] as well as interstate & foreign travel.[8]  The primary constitutional limit upon quarantine powers isn’t the First Amendment’s association clause, but rather due process & the writ of habeas corpus.[9]

Corrections & comments welcome.

[1] Kathleen S. Swendiman, Cong. Research Serv., RS21414, Mandatory Vaccinations: Precedent and Current Laws 2-4 (2011), available at  Federal vaccination mandates do extend to immigrants & the military.  Id. at 7-8.

[2] See, e.g., U.S. Const. art. I, § 10; U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.

[3] See, e.g., Randy E. Barnett, The Original Meaning of the Judicial Power, 12 S. Ct. Econ. Rev. 115, 123-125 (2004); Saikrishna B. Prakash & John C. Yoo, The Origins of Judicial Review, 70 U. Chi. L. Rev. 887, 948-951, 958, 960, 964 (2003).

[4] See, e.g., U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 5.

[5] Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905).

[6] Kathleen S. Swendiman & Jennifer K. Elsea, Cong. Research Serv., RL33201, Federal and State Quarantine and Isolation Authority 3-4 (2007), available at

[7] 42 U.S.C. § 266 (2006).

[8] 42 U.S.C. § 264 (2006).

[9] See Swendiman & Elsea, supra note 6, at 12-15.


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