Public Health and the
Protection of Individual
Government has a long tradition of regulating for the community's welfare. Regulations target individuals (e.g., infectious disease powers), professionals and institutions (e.g., licenses), and businesses (e.g., inspections and safety standards). The previous chapter emphasized the broad powers and duties of government to safeguard the public's health. This chapter and the next consider the restraints on government power to protect individual interests in autonomy, privacy, liberty, and property.
The cases and reflective readings in this chapter trace the evolution in judicial thought on the balance between public health power and protection of individual rights. It is important to emphasize that judicial review is neither static nor immune from political and social influences. Rather, judicial review of public health interventions has changed over time, depending on the current composition of the Supreme Court. These changes, moreover, often reflect prevailing social and political thought. For example, much of the Warren Court's defense of civil liberties can be traced to heightened awareness of individual rights and liberties relating to African Americans and women in the 1960s. Many federalism decisions by the Rehnquist Court, as excerpted in chapter 6, are influenced by the modern emphasis on states' rights and against large central government.
Several different meanings may be attributed to constitutional adjudication (see Figure 11). Some see the primary role of the Constitution