Public Health and American Law
For the rational study of the law the black-letter man may
be the man of the present, but the man of the future is the
man of statistics and the master of economics.
—Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., The Path of the Law
ITHAS BEEN MORE than 100 years since Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. declared that the future of the law lay not in legal doctrine but in the insights and understandings garnered by other disciplines. Since that time, lawyers, jurists, and legal scholars have become acquainted with, embraced, and sometimes abandoned a broad array of nonlegal disciplines. The teachings of sociology, psychology, literary theory, critical theory, and most frequently economics have all been applied, with varying degrees of influence and success, to criticize and augment American jurisprudence.
One perspective now largely absent from this interdisciplinary buffet is public health. This absence from legal consciousness is surprising because until relatively recently public health played a pivotal role in the development of several fields of law. But the deficit is also problematic because issues relating to the health of populations are pervasive throughout the law. Lawyers, legislators, and judges continually confront questions with profound implications for the health of a community. Hence, lawyers must understand the teachings of public health not only because the law