At the heart of the case is Rule 2.13 of New York’s public health law, which gives state health officials the power to order anyone who is suspected of having a communicable disease like COVID-19 to be placed in temporary housing against their will. It allows them to issue isolation or quarantine orders without any proof of an individual being infected. The rule also allows them to force individuals to stay in their home or go to other locations that public health authorities consider appropriate. It gives authorities the power to hold people for as long as they wish.
The plaintiffs – who include Senator George Borrello, Congressman Mike Lawler, Assemblyman Chris Tague and citizens’ group Uniting NYS – had originally won their suit against the administration of Governor Kathy Hochul in 2022. On that occasion, the rule was voided by State Supreme Court Justice Ronald Ploetz on the grounds that it is a violation of state law and “ignores the balancing act between an individual’s rights and the need for public safety.”
However, the state appealed the ruling, leading to the new case before the Appellate Division’s Fourth Department in Rochester that did not go in the plaintiffs' favor. Protesters gathered outside the courthouse while the oral arguments in the case were being heard holding up signs with slogans such as “No Quarantine Camps.”
New York State Senator George Borrello explained why the rule was so concerning, noting: “Given the language, it is clear that the Commissioner of Health or a local health department could quarantine individuals against their will at a location of the Commissioner or Health Department’s choosing — a gross abuse of due process and New Yorkers’ civil rights.”
The ruling means that the New York Commissioner of Health can now issue quarantine orders to control diseases despite the plaintiffs’ argument that the regulations impede individual liberty and majorly overstep separation of powers.
Attorney Bobbie Anne Flower Cox, who worked tirelessly on the case to protect the rights of New Yorkers, described the ruling as being “sucker-punched in the gut.”
She explained that the suit was not dismissed based on its merits, writing on Substack: “The court has dismissed our lawsuit, not because we are wrong in our arguments… no, no, indeed we are dead-right. In fact, the court did not even touch the merits of the case. How could they? Instead, the court unbelievably ruled that my plaintiffs somehow do not have standing to sue!”
She believes the court is implying that the only parties who can sue over this matter are those who have been victims of the quarantine regulation, forcibly locked into their houses against their will or taken from their homes and sent to a quarantine detention center.
This, she said, is flawed logic because their suit was related to the separation of powers doctrine; as part of the executive branch, the governor and the Department of Health do not possess the constitutional authority needed to make that regulation. Only the legislative branch has the power to make such laws. This is one of the reasons the trial court had ruled in their favor last summer.
Flower Cox said that they will take the case to the highest court in New York, the Court of Appeals, who she believes will see that the Constitution is on their side. She pointed out that when one state’s executive branch gets away with taking powers it is not constitutionally entitled to, it will set a precedent that other states can use to violate their citizens’ rights on a range of issues.
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