Categories: Health Law Constitutional Law Administrative and Regulatory Law


Charo, R. Alta

Course Data

Room remotely delivered asynchronously
Pass/Fail: Yes

Past Grade Distributions

Course Description

Our experience with COVID-19 has vividly demonstrated need for a functioning public health system that ensures the health and wellbeing of citizens. While governments at all levels have varying degrees of power to provide for the public’s health, government action to protect health and well-being may conflict with constitutionally-protected rights of individuals. Thus, the question that lawyers, legislators, judges, and public health authorities must consider when contemplating government action is the extent to which the state may monitor and restrain citizens for the promotion of health, safety, and morals. This course will explore the legal foundations of the American public health system and the resulting struggle between individual liberties and the government’s interest in providing for its citizens' collective health and wellbeing. It will also use the COVID-19 experience to explore the operational challenges in a public health system, including supply chain management, business disruption, first responder safety, crisis standards for medical care and pharmaceutical/vaccine development, and international cooperation.

The goal is to provide students with the ability to understand: (1) structure and functions of the public health system; (2) the role of government (including judiciary), community, and individual involvement in public health; (3) the legal powers available at each level of government and (4) the tensions between governmental interests in public health and individual interests in liberty.

The course will take advantage of mixed method teaching, combining in-person classes with on-line learning and exercises. No textbook. Readings and exercises will be provided by instructor. Background in statistics, epidemiology, biology and medicine is welcome but not required. On-line materials will be made available to provide the basics needed to participate fully in the class.


Upon completion of this course, students should be able to:

(1) describe and critique the authority of the state and federal government to limit personal freedom, economic transactions and land management for the purpose of promoting public health
(2) distinguish between the legality and the politics of various public health policy choices
(3) appreciate the interplay between immigration, race, class, geography, and education in the history and formation of public health policy

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