Priorities in Public Health Law: A Practice-Based
Analysis of Trends in the Legal Needs of Public
Caty Schmitter* and Jennifer A. Bernstein**
The field of public health law has rapidly expanded since the publication
of Lawrence Gostin’s seminal text, Public Health Law: Power, Duty, Re-
straint, fourteen years ago.
1 The tone of Gostin’s first edition in 2000 may
have reflected the field’s lack of public visibility at the time in highlighting
a “need to assert the relevance of public health law to the new millenni-
2 Today, it is difficult to conceive of public health law as obscure.
Even those unaware of it as a professional discipline are often familiar with
its hot-button issues. From the Affordable Care Act to taxes on soda, public
health legal interventions are more widely publicized and discussed now
than ever before.
Despite the general societal shift, marked by an increased use of legal
and policy tools as public health interventions4 and a growing pool of young
Program Coordinator, Network for Public Health Law, St. Paul, Minnesota.
J. D., M.P.H., Senior Attorney, Network for Public Health Law, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
1. LAWRENCE O. GOSTIN, PUBLIC HEALTH LAW: POWER, DUTY, RESTRAINT (2000).
2. Elizabeth Weeks Leonard, Public Health Law for a Brave New World, 9 HOUS. J.
HEALTH L. & POL’Y 181, 182 (2008).
3. See e.g., Heather Knight, S.F. soda tax plan raises city’s high cost, opponents say,
S.F. CHRON., Feb. 1, 2014, http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/S-F-soda-tax-plan-raises-
city-s-high-cost-5197049.php; Karen Tumulty, Making History: House Passes Health Care
Reform, TIME, Mar. 23, 2010, http://content.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,
1973989, 00.html; Erika Check Hayden, Anti-Tobacco Efforts Have Saved Millions of Lives
Worldwide, SCI. AM., Jan. 9, 2014, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/anti-tobacco-efforts-have-saved-millions-of-lives-worldwide; Emily Wagster Pettus, Miss. House, Senate
pass bill on youth concussions, KAN. CITY STAR, Jan. 27, 2014, http://www.kansascity.com
4. See generally, T. L. Schmid, M. Pratt, & E. Howze, Policy as Intervention: Environmental and Policy Approaches to the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, 85 AM. J. PUB.
HEALTH 1207 (1995); see also Rickard A. Goodman et al., Law and Public Health at CDC,
55 MORBIDITY & MORTALITY WKLY. REP. 29-33 (2006), available at
mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ su5502a11.htm (discussing the changing scope of public health