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As news comes in of the potential lawsuit being filed in New Jersey on behalf of the nurse who recently returned from treating patients of Ebola in West Africa, I wonder what the legal justification is for holding her against her will.

The obvious answer is in deference to various public health statutes on the books both in New Jersey and Federally. However, this case appears different because she is still considered 100% harmless to public health by the medical community, but is still being held by the government. What empowers the government to impose a medical practice on someone against the wishes of the medical community?

It appears to me that the government will have a very tough time arguing that there is an overriding public health case that justifies their actions. Is this the only case they can make, or is there other precedence the New Jersey government can rely on in this case to detain her anyway?

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    Since when is irrational fear not a standard basis of legislation? – Affable Geek Oct 27 '14 at 13:19
  • The CDC says, "The federal government derives its authority for isolation and quarantine from the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution." This is the same clause that the federal government uses to justify restrictions to the 2nd Amendment, Obamacare, etc. You might want to link to a news story that sources your claim, "However, this case appears different because she is still considered 100% harmless to public health by the medical community, but is still being held by the government" – user1873 Oct 27 '14 at 14:06
  • You could probably ask the same thing about mandatory screening for Ebola at airports. DUI checkpoints although they stop a person without reasonable suspicion and without probable cause, SCOTUS said they were constitutional, "the balance of the State's interest in preventing drunken driving, [...] and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped, weighs in favor of the state program." I don't see why the state couldn't make the same argument for detection and isolation of Ebola. – user1873 Oct 27 '14 at 14:20
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    Additionally, your question implies she is being held after testing negative, "However, this case appears different because she is still considered 100% harmless to public health by the medical community, but is still being held by the government." But, after testing negative she is being released. – user1873 Oct 27 '14 at 14:32
  • I actually didn't know she was being released, as this is a change to the original policy. They initially claimed she would continue to be held after testing negative. However as this policy also exists in other states like Illinois, I think it is still a valid question (and she may still sue). – Michael Kingsmill Oct 27 '14 at 15:18
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Every state has laws that allow people to be placed into custody if they present some kind of public danger to themselves or others due to illness. Your question is kind of contradictory as the nurse in question was detained due to concerns, albeit farfetched, about her medical state. So in that sense she was not detained without medical justification it is just that the justification was somewhat based on poor logic.

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