I Just Realized There is No Authority Under The Constitution for the Feds to Impose a 21-day Quarantine on Persons From Africa

In a previous blog post, I wrote that the President and the Federal government should impose a 21-day quarantine on persons entering the country from areas of Africa stricken with ebola. I now no longer think the Federal government has the power to do this under the Constitution. In fact, there is no Constitutional authority for the Federal government to restrict entry into the United States at all.

The Constitution is a charter of enumerated powers for the Federal Government. It lists what powers are expressly carved out of state sovereignty( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enumerated_powers ) If it does not list a power as belonging to the Federal government, then such power is reserved for the states. (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution)

Article I, Section 8 lays out Congress’ powers, and it says nothing about quarantine. In fact, it appears to give the Federal government no power to regulate entry into the country at all, except for the purposes of imposing duties (Art. I, Sec. 8-1) It also says Congress can make uniform laws of naturalization (Art. I, Sec. 8-4), but that is just how people become citizens -not whether they can enter the country. That means the Federal government must be relying on the “catch-all” of Art. I, Sec. 8-3, (“To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations…”), but I fail to see how people entering the country is “commerce” under original meaning. It now appears to me that Congress has no power to restrict entry by people into the country at all -assuming we are going to actually take the Constitution seriously, which I do. 

I did some further research online, and discovered this article: http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/immigrationlaw/chapter2.html It basically seems to say that the courts have found an “inherent power” in the Constitution that allows the Federal government to restrict entry into the country. From the stand-point of original meaning, this seems as problematic as the “penumbras and emanations” that supposedly give rise to a right to privacy in the Constitution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griswold_v._Connecticut). I don’t see how Scalia, Thomas, Bork, or other originalist scholars could look at themselves in the mirror in the morning and claim some sort of unenumerated “inherent power” of the Federal government to restrict entry into the country.

Does this mean that quarantine cannot be imposed? I think it must occur at the state level. Each state government must establish its own quarantine laws, consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution) As long as some sort of hearing with objective rules of evidence and sufficient proof of a threat to others occurs, then this is probably sufficient. The additional implication of my new understanding of the Constitution, which I won’t get into too much here, is that each state would appear to have the power to set its own rules for entry into that state by immigrants from other countries. This might not be the result that originalists like Scalia would like, but it is what the Constitution seems to require under original meaning.

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I am Dean Cook. I currently live in Dallas Texas.