The outbreak of Ebola in Africa and its recent emergence in America has brought to light that the ambit of state sovereignty in the face of federal policy is unsettled in the public health field. Quarantine laws have historically been recognized as an exercise of state police powers and, absent discriminatory uses, courts have afforded much deference to states when the federal government is dormant.
This Article explores federalism implications when federal and state sovereigns contest the purview of regulating Ebola, other epidemics, and quarantines. This Article examines how the federal government could assert supremacy to regulate the treatment of epidemics and quarantine through preemption, in light of traditionally recognized state police powers over health and safety, and evaluates the value of federal and state sovereignty over such matters. It argues that the anti-preemption clause of the Public Health Service Act, which governs federal authority over quarantines and communicable diseases, and the Supreme Court’s general presumption against preemption would not save state quarantine regulations from preemption. It concludes that preemption doctrines, particularly obstacle and field preemption, could override state quarantine regulations because state law arguably threatens national security by frustrating federal efforts to contain Ebola in West Africa and impeding the Executive’s exercise of his foreign affairs power.