Through a wave of pandemic-related litigation, a trio of small but mighty conservative legal blocs has rolled back public health authority at the local, state, and federal levels, recasting America’s future battles against infectious diseases.
Galvanized by what they’ve characterized as an overreach of covid-related health orders issued amid the pandemic, lawyers from the three overlapping spheres — conservative and libertarian think tanks, Republican state attorneys general, and religious liberty groups — are aggressively taking on public health mandates and the government agencies charged with protecting community health.
“I don’t think these cases have ever been about public health,” said Daniel Suhr, managing attorney for the Liberty Justice Center, a Chicago-based libertarian litigation group. “That’s the arena where these decisions are being made, but it’s the fundamental constitutional principles that underlie it that are an issue.”
Through lawsuits filed around the country, or by simply wielding the threat of legal action, these loosely affiliated groups have targeted individual counties and states and, in some cases, set broader legal precedent.
In Wisconsin, a conservative legal center won a case before the state Supreme Court stripping local health departments of the power to close schools to stem the spread of disease.
In Missouri, the Republican state attorney general waged a campaign against school mask mandates. Most of the dozens of cases he filed were dismissed but nonetheless had a chilling effect on school policies.
In California, a lawsuit brought by religious groups challenging a health order that limited the size of both secular and nonsecular in-home gatherings as …