Analysis and Commentary on Health Law
“Might as Well Carry a Purse with That Mask, Joe”: COVID-19, Toxic Masculinity, and the Sad State of National Politics

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman and Boston University law professor Linda C. McClain comment on COVID-19, toxic masculinity, and the state of national politics today. Grossman and McClain contrast President Trump’s reckless bravado that endangers the lives of Americans with the empathy of Democratic presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden’s in asking people to be patriotic by doing their part by wearing masks to protect other Americans.

The Biggest Threat to Herd Immunity Against COVID-19 May Be the Religious Freedom Restoration Act(s) and State Religious Exemptions

Marci A. Hamilton—a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading church-state scholars—argues that the biggest threats to herd immunity against COVID-19 are federal and state religious liberty statutes and religious/philosophical exemptions. Hamilton describes how the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and its state-law equivalents came to be in the United States, and she calls upon legislators at all levels to amend RFRA so that once we have developed an effective and safe vaccine, we might as a country develop herd immunity and prevent more unnecessary deaths.

Impoverishing Women: Supreme Court Upholds Trump Administration’s Religious and Moral Exemptions to Contraceptive Mandate

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding the Trump administration’s religious and moral exemptions to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Grossman provides a brief history of the conflict over the growing politicization of contraception in the United States and argues that the exemptions at issue in this case should never have been promulgated in the first place because they have no support in science or public policy.

A Modest Proposal: A Heartbeat Bill for Those Who Don’t Wear Masks

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton draws upon a strategy used by anti-abortion advocates in suggesting a way to encourage (or coerce) more people into wearing masks to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Hamilton proposes requiring persons who opt not to wear a mask in public (1) to watch, on a large screen, an adult's beating heart for 30 seconds, and (2) to be read a statement about how their decision unreasonably endangers others.

Mr. President: This Is When the Country Can “Reopen”

University of Pennsylvania professor Marci A. Hamilton writes an open letter to President Donald Trump asking that he not reopen the country until everyone has appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Hamilton argues that the President should exercise his power under the Defense Production Act to repurpose U.S. factories to make masks and gloves until everyone who needs them has them.

Rethinking Generational Justice in Light of the Coronavirus Catastrophe

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf observes that the unfolding catastrophe of COVID-19, the now-pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus, will require all of us—whatever our politics, religion, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and age—to come together and unite to defeat it. Dorf builds upon insights by Verdict columnist and University of Florida Law professor Neil Buchanan that generational justice is the wrong lens through which to view questions about funding Social Security because the real distributional problems in our society exist in the here in now and require people to work together, not at cross-purposes.

Dear Mayor “Extremely Vague” and Senator “Pipe Dream”: Put Up or Shut Up

University of Florida Levin College of Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan calls upon Democratic presidential candidates Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar to step up and say what they are for, rather than merely what they are against. While Buchanan acknowledges that he does not fully agree with Warren’s Medicare-for-All proposal, but he praises her for being bold enough to put forth a plan, unlike many of her competitors.

Explaining Why Dairy Won’t Share the Word “Milk”

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a battle over what products may carry the label “milk.” Colb proposes that the dairy industry opposes plant-based milks (such as soy milk or almond milk) from identifying their products using the word “milk” not because of any real risk of confusing consumers or market harm, but as a show of dominance in response to exposed vulnerability.

Can the FDA Regulate Vaping as an Ethical Alternative to Tobacco Cigarettes?

Clinical bioethicist Charles E. Binkley and attorney David S. Kemp consider whether—and how—the Food and Drug Administration might reasonably regulate vaping devices, also known as electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS), so that they can serve as an ethical alternative to combustible tobacco products. Specifically, Binkley and Kemp and call for further longitudinal data on the risks and benefits of ENDS and propose certain contingencies that must be in place before ENDS can serve as a viable replacement for conventional combustible tobacco products.

Justice Department Brief Calls for Invalidation of All of Obamacare Without Justification

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher comments on the position in the Department of Justice recently took with respect to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as “Obamacare”), declining to defend any part of the Act in court. Estreicher argues that the DOJ’s position lacks justification and explains the weaknesses of the district court’s reasoning striking down the entire Act.

Frenemies at Last?: How Legislative History Could Save Justice Kavanaugh’s Opinion in Azar v. Allina

John Cannan—a research and instructional services librarian at Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law in Philadelphia—discusses a case that will be argued before the US Supreme Court this week and explains how the legislative history of the law at issue in that case could save the lower court’s decision, which was written by then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Cannan points out the irony that Justice Kavanaugh, who is vocally opposed to using legislative history in interpreting the meaning of statutes, may find the greatest support for his decision in this case in the legislative history.

Trump’s—and the GOP’s—Hat Trick of Falsehoods About Pre-Existing Conditions

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf debunks President Trump’s claim that he has kept his campaign promise to “protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions.” Dorf provides three primary reasons that the claim is dishonest: the administration’s position in a pending lawsuit; the GOP’s proposed alternative, which does not require insurance companies to offer policies that actually cover pre-existing conditions, and the claim that Democratic support of Medicare for All is “radical socialism.”

“Deadly Deliveries”: USA Today Report Sheds Disturbing Light on Shocking Rates of Maternal Mortality in the United States

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman discusses the findings of a recent USA Today investigation that reveals that maternal mortality rates in the United States are rising, even as they fall globally. Grossman explains that some states, such as California, have put substantial resources into investigating the causes of maternal mortality and implementing changes to address it, while other states, such as Texas, are adhering to ideologically driven policies that endanger infant and maternal health.

Sex, Lies, and Trump’s Rollback of the Contraceptive Mandate

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the recent change in policy announced by the Trump administration rolling back the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, allowing employers with religious or moral objections to exempt themselves. Grossman describes the history of access to contraception in the United States and the measures Trump has taken that have the purpose or effect of restricting access to contraception.

Can Texas Require Separate Insurance Coverage For Abortion?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers a recently passed Texas law that will require people who want insurance coverage for non-emergency abortions to buy an additional, separate policy from their regular health insurance policy. Colb explains that proponents of the law argue that individuals should not have to fund practices with which they fundamentally disagree, but she points out that many taxpayers provide funding for government activities with which they fundamentally disagree and this situation is arguably no different from those.

An Ethical Analysis of the American Health Care Act

Charles E. Binkley, MD, FACS, co-chair of the Ethics Committee at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco, and attorney David Kemp conduct an ethical analysis of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, using the principles of impartiality and justice. Within this framework, Binkley and Kemp identify three values around which health care coverage should be prioritized, and they conclude that the AHCA fails to meet the ethical standards for government-supported health care.

California’s Defeated Condom Initiative and the First Amendment

Cornell University professor Sherry F. Colb discusses California’s Proposition 60, a ballot initiative that recently failed in that state that would have required male actors in pornographic movies to wear condoms during performances. Colb considers both a First Amendment challenge to the ballot initiative, as well as a possible response to that challenge, and she argues the law would likely pass muster under the First Amendment.

Ensuring Consent with Sexual Advance Directives

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the idea of a sexual advance directive—a proposed legal device that could provide consent or designate an agent to provide consent in advance of an anticipated persistent period of legal incompetence. Colb explains how a sexual advance directive purports to work, describes some limitations of it, and proposes an alternative solution that addresses those limitations.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, holds the James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973.... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He... more

Samuel Estreicher
Samuel Estreicher

Samuel Estreicher is the Dwight D. Opperman Professor, Director, Center for Labor and Employment... more

Leslie C. Griffin
Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Fels Institute of Government Professor of Practice, and Fox Family... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of... more

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately... more