Norman Siegel, a civil rights lawyer, said Kaci Hickox's isolation
upon her return from West Africa raised "serious constitutional and
civil liberties issues," given that she shows no Ebola symptoms and
has not tested positive for the disease.
"We're not going to dispute that the government has, under certain
circumstances, the right to issue a quarantine," said Siegel, who
was on his way to visit Hickox in a New Jersey hospital. "The policy
is overly broad when applied to her.Ē
The lawsuit would be the first to challenge the 21-day mandatory
quarantine imposed by New Jersey for anyone arriving with a high
risk of having contracted Ebola from Sierra Leone, Liberia and
Guinea, where the epidemic has killed nearly 5,000 people.
The case could also affect similar policies announced by other
states including New York and Illinois.
The lawsuit will argue that Hickox's constitutional right to due
process was violated when she was forced into isolation, Siegel
State officials implemented a blanket policy without identifying a
rational basis for confining asymptomatic individuals like Hickox,
"The case law makes clear that the policy should be driven by
medical fact, not fear," he said.
Michelle Mello, professor of law and public health at Harvard
University, said courts in such cases seek to balance the level of
danger posed by the disease with the likelihood that the individual
poses a public threat.
But she said courts have found reason to uphold past quarantines,
even when there was no definitive proof the individuals were ill.
"I donít think it is clear, but I suspect when all is said and done,
it wonít be successful," she said.
Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University law professor and health
expert, said states' authority to issue quarantine orders is broad,
but not unlimited.
"I canít recall a case in the 20th century where certain states are
preparing to quarantine an entire class of people irrespective of
their individualized risk," he said. "It just flies in the face of
science, ethics and law."
[to top of second column]
In such cases, courts typically seek the least restrictive
alternative, Gostin said, which might include voluntary confinement
with monitoring. He said other quarantines, such as for
drug-resistant tuberculosis, require a positive test.
Gostin has been in contact with Hickox via email to offer advice and
support, he said.
Hickox, the first person isolated under the new orders, arrived on
Friday at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey after
working with Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.
In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Hickox criticized the policy,
saying she is "completely healthy."
But New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told Fox News on Sunday he
would not back down. "This is government's job ... to protect the
safety and health of our citizens."
The White House, worried that the quarantine orders could impede the
fight against Ebola, has voiced its concerns to the governors of New
Jersey, New York and other states, a senior administration official
said on Sunday.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Paul Simao)
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