New York state’s Fourth Judicial Department has reinstated a controversial policy that empowers the state government to lawfully order people to involuntarily isolate or quarantine in order to prevent the spread of highly contagious diseases.
Originally passed in February 2022, the dramatic expansion of the rights and abilities of the State Health Commissioner, collectively referred to as Rule 2.13, was struck down in July of that same year in the state Supreme Court, following a lawsuit filed by Republican lawmakers Sen. George Borrello, Assemblyman Chris Tague and U.S. Rep. Mike Lawler, who was a member of the Assembly at the time of the filing.
Last Friday, the Fourth Judicial Department repealed that decision, stating that the Republican challengers, who had argued that Rule 2.13 gave undue power to the executive branch and disregarded the authority of the state legislature, had not established how their authority had been negated.
The court’s Democratic Supermajority, in a unanimous vote, ruled that the “Legislature retains its power to address the regulation,” essentially stating that New York legislators still maintain the authority to change the laws which originally empowered the Governor’s office to pass new and stricter public health policies. Furthermore, the Fourth Judical Court wrote “that the legislator petitioners failed to fulfill the injury-in-fact requirement to establish standing” arguing that the state legislators who originally brought the suit did not have the legal standing to do so.
The lower court ruled that Rule 2.13 did not nullify any vote cast by the plaintiffs or strip them of any due authority, thus the challengers had no grounds on which to personally sue.
“Inasmuch as the legislator petitioners merely asserted an alleged harm to the separation of powers shared by the legislative branch as a whole, they failed to establish that they suffered a direct, personal injury beyond an abstract institutional harm,” wrote the court.
Republicans have categorized the Fourth Judical Departments ruling as a technicality, and have vowed to continue challenging the policy.
“The court seems to insinuate that the only person with the right to sue is someone who has been forcibly locked in their home against their will” Bobbie Anne Flower Cox, the attorney representing the petitioners, wrote in a blog post following the lower court’s decision.
Rule 2.13 was fi rst made possible when, during the early days of the Covid 19 Pandemic, the state legislature amended executive law and gave then Governor Andrew Cuomo broad power to suspend laws and issue directives through executive orders.
The new ruling supersedes the conclusion of Supreme Court Justice Ronald Ploetz of Cattaraugus County, who stated Rule 2.13 violates the constitutional requirement for a separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches when establishing actions as severe as involuntary isolation.
With Rule 2.13 reinstated, the State Commissioner of Health now resumes the authority to “whenever appropriate to control the spread of a highly contagious communicable disease, issue and/or direct the local health authority to issue isolation and/or quarantine orders, consistent with due process of law, to all such persons as the State Commissioner of Health shall determine appropriate.”