Public Health Laws, by the Board of Health of the State of New Jersey
One of the more topical and instructive reads that one can do in a time of public health crisis like our contemporary day is to go out and seek the public health laws that exist and to seek to understand them and what they mean. Admittedly, reading laws is not the most exciting way that one can pass the time, and these laws are for the most part filled with a high degree of legalese and the interest of increasing the power of various state and local governments to intervene in wide swaths of the behavior of citizens. Yet at times something truly remarkable peeks its way through these particular laws as we see the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as an era of incredible government overreach with a high degree of assumptions about the relative wisdom of government authorities and ordinary people that would be highly insulting and politically problematic if those assumptions were directly spelled out rather than simply being at the base of the laws that were enacted over the course of a couple of decades as was the case. The scope of these laws proves to be deeply disturbing, and some of the laws themselves highly troublesome in their import.
This particular book is not organized with a focus on making things easy for the reader. Yet for the student of law the book is certainly organized well enough to be understood without too much trouble so long as one has a high tolerance for the language of laws. The laws are themselves taken in chronological fashion and include a great deal of matters that are viewed as relating to public health during the state of New Jersey. Some of the laws relate to the establishment of state and local medical boards with competence in addressing issues of licensing dairy farms and food and drugs and encouraging the building of hospitals and regulating various affairs that are judged as relating to the health of the people of New Jersey. By the time the book ends the reader is aware of the rules and regulations that were present in the state of New Jersey during the time of the flu pandemic of 1918. It should be noted that the laws that existed and were enforced were not a great help to the survival of the people of the time in dealing with the flu, but they certainly were a great help in increasing the size and scope of government influence and power, to be sure.
Although most of the laws are rather mundane to the point of being deeply uninteresting, occasionally some of the laws are very interesting indeed. For example, some of the laws deal with vaccines and encourage the coercion of those whose children are not vaccinated. Other laws make sure that the scope of local power is not hindered by the absence of establishing township or local boards. Other laws restrict marriage to either biblical standards of avoiding incest (on the positive side) or seeking to prevent the marriage of those who are judged of unsound mind or suffer from seizures, which is rather intrusive. Some of the laws are awfully specific about what constitutes pure food and drugs, and a lot of the laws deal with pure water and its availability. Of great interest as well are the laws that relate to quarantining that state that no ship should full of those with communicable diseases can force a local port to discharge its ill passengers unless it receives local permission to do so, which is a law highly relevant in Florida’s current governor seeking to avoid the spread of Coronavirus among Florida’s generally aging and vulnerable population. Reading old laws can remind us of the way that states and local governments behave even to this day.