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Center for Law and the Public’s Health



The Origin of "Quarantine"
The word ‘quarantine’ is likely derived from the French quarantaine, which means a group of forty items; frequently, early quarantines lasted for forty days. In this 1929 article in British Medical Journal, F.G. Clemow discusses the origins and early history of this form of confinement.




Local Quarantine and Inoculation for Smallpox in
the American Colonies (1620-1775)

In this 1923 American Journal of Public Health article, Elizabeth Tandy notes that "the colonization of America was a bitter fight with disease and death." As early as 1647, the colonists imposed quarantines on ships arriving from other parts of the world. Later, quarantines became common methods of controlling the spread of smallpox.

Kirk v. Board of Health [Wyman]
Mary Kirk was a woman of "culture and refinement."
She was also afflicted with leprosy, contracted while working as a missionary in Brazil. To prevent the disease from infecting others, the local Board of Health ordered her isolation. Although leprosy is contagious, was the Board’s decision necessary to protect the public?

  City of New York v. Antoinette R.
Treatment for tuberculosis often requires patients to complete a six to nine month course of medication. Prematurely ending the treatment may render the patient infectious again and present a hazard to others. To prevent the disease from spreading, New York City authorized the Commissioner of Health to detain non-compliant patients. Antoinette R. was detained pursuant to this authority. Does the risk of spreading tuberculosis justify the restriction of personal liberty?

  United States v. Sturgis
Sturgis provides an early example of a court trying to interpret the meaning of ‘dangerous weapon,’ an issue that becomes increasingly salient in the cases below. In Sturgis, the defendant strikes a correctional officer with a metal and plastic chair and is convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. Is such a chair a deadly weapon under District of Columbia law?

  Indiana v. Haines
Responding to a report of a suicide attempt, police arrived at Haines’ home to find him lying in a pool of blood with his wrists slashed. Haines told the officer that he had AIDS and wanted to be left alone to die. As paramedics attempted to subdue him, Haines intentionally splattered blood while scratching and biting them. Haines was later charged with three counts of attempted murder for attempting to transmit the fatal disease. Were these charges appropriate?

  New Jersey v. Smith
While incarcerated in a county jail, inmate Smith threatened to kill correctional officers by biting and spitting on them to transmit his HIV infection. On June 11, 1989, he carried out this threat and bit the hand of a guard and breaking the skin. A jury convicted him of attempted murder and a judge sentenced him to 25 years. On appeal, Smith attributed the harsh sentence to discrimination based on his HIV status. Claiming that HIV cannot be transmitted by biting, he argued that his conduct constituted nothing more than assault. In this appellate case, the court reviews that application of a criminal statute to a case involving medical and public health evidence.


United States v. Moore
The facts of Moore and remarkably similar to those in Smith, above. Defendant Moore bit correctional officers while incarcerated at a federal medical facility and was convicted of two counts of assault with a deadly and and dangerous weapon – his mouth and teeth. In this case, the 8th Circuit discusses whether the severity and nature of the bite warranted this conviction in addition to the relevance of Moore’s HIV status.



United States v. Johnson
Under the interim provisions of the "Brady bill" firearms control act, state and local law enforcement agencies are required to perform background checks on potential gun purchasers in certain circumstances. The petitioner objected, claiming that the Constitution forbids Congress from requiring state officials to carrying out federal laws. Does this provision of the law intrude on state sovereignty?





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