The Unwritten Amendment: Your Constitutional Right to Shop

An Editoral By Steven Zimmerman

I recently had a conversation with an individual who feels that his having to wear a face covering, having to social distance and observe reduced occupancy limits somehow violates his rights.

“These are my inalienable, God-given Constitutional rights,” says Michael Lara. “I fought for this, to choose what I wear and when I go off to eat and who I eat with.”

Everyone is eager to return to work, to return to a normal life. I understand this. I do. As I’ve said in previous articles, I’ve written for San Eli News, and I am on the fence about reopening. As a business owner I want things to return to normal. I’m not even living hand to mouth anymore. When you must ask others to loan you money for groceries, it’s hard.

The other side of the coin for me is that I also have health issues that put me very much at risk. Yet, I can’t stop and shut down San Eli News and wait for the day a vaccine for COVID is found.

Michael’s comment, however, has had me thinking. This is not the first time the United States Government, or individual States for that matter, have institution acts like Texas’ Stay Home, Work Safe orders.

In 1878, as a response to continued outbreaks of yellow fever, Congress passed federal quarantine legislation.

Cholera outbreaks prompted another look at the quarantine laws in 1892. A reinterpretation of the act provided the federal government more authority in imposing quarantine requirements. Then, in 1893, Congress passed legislation that further clarified the federal government’s role in quarantine activities.

As time progressed and individual States began to turn control of their quarantine stations over the United States Government. The benefits the US Government could provide were far more significant than what the States could offer. The quarantine system was fully nationalized in 1921 when the last quarantine station was turned over to the US Government.

In 1944 the Public Health Service Act set out, in writing, the federal government’s quarantine authority for the very first time. Today, 42 USC 264 spells out that authority when it comes to the control of communicable diseases. (Full text of 42 USC)

For communicable diseases from cholera, diphtheria, TB to flu that can cause a pandemic, the United States government has several legal authorities that grant them broad powers when it comes to isolation and quarantine.

Texas has a set of laws that even allow for the Stay Home, Work Safe orders that we are so ready to ignore.

This chapter, also known as the Texas Disaster Act, sets out the emergency powers of government entities in Texas. It provides a definition of what is considered a “disaster.”

This statute provides a definition of “public health disaster.” Specifically, the description states that a “state of disaster” must be declared by the Texas Governor and there must be a determination by the Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services that there exists an immediate threat from a communicable disease.

This subchapter sets out steps that can be taken by local health authorities and the Texas Department State Health Services during a declared “public health disaster.”

This statute gives the Commissioner of the Department of State Health Services or local health authorities the ability to declare a quarantine in a particular area of Texas. It also sets a criminal penalty for individuals who do not comply with such a quarantine.

These statutes give certain types of municipalities the authority to issue and enforce quarantine rules.

Now, I want to step back into recent history and ask where the outrage was when a man was forced into quarantine for having extreme drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB).

In 2007 a man in the US flew to Europe for his wedding after being diagnosed with XDR-TB. Shortly after returning to the United States, he was placed under a federal order of isolation because he crossed international borders. The law used for this was last used in 1963 for someone exposed to smallpox.

There was no outrage then.

This was just one man, carrying a strain of TB that he was not likely to transmit to others, yet he was forced into government ordered isolation. He could not shop, go out to eat or to the movies, could not visit family. He simply remained in quarantine and later had lung tissue surgically removed.

Just one man and no one stood up for his “constitutional” rights to shop or have dinner at McDonald’s.

As these laws were passed, as others were being voted on, where was the outcry of civil rights violations, Constitutional violations, of infringing on the rights of others?

I’ll wait for you to find them…

Fast-forward to the here and now and the Republican Party is losing its mind because they must sit home. The Part of Law and Order cannot adhere to law or order.

I’ve witnessed arguments between shop customers and employees because someone didn’t want to wear a mask to shop. [As an aside, a private business owner can refuse you entry to their business. If you don’t want to wear a mask, they have every right to bar you, and you have every right to take your business elsewhere].

We’ve seen, in the news, people have been killed for simply telling others to they must wear a mask or stand six feet apart.

As a society, we’ve reached a point where We the People has boiled down to “do what I want, or you can bugger off.”

The same people who were up in arms over immigrants and migrants coming to the country, shouting in protest after protest that those seeking a better life for themselves and their families must follow the law cannot follow the law themselves.

“I will, not caring of the outcome, protect my rights,” said my friend Michael Lara. “You can’t take my rights away. I will fight for them. It’s my right to eat. It’s my right not to wear a f*^&ing mask. It’s my right to go on out and eat. IT’S MY RIGHT!”

I asked Michael when him, pushing his rights off on me, forcing mine and other businesses to open, begins to infringe upon my rights.

“FAKE NEWS! CORONA VIRUS IS A FLASE FLAG!” yelled Michael before hanging up the phone.

A week later, after becoming ill, Michael was diagnosed with COVID-19.

We are no longer a nation of laws. We are no longer a nation of the people, by the people, for the people [Sorry Abe]. We are now a nation of mob rule, and the loudest bunch gets to make those rules.

I’m off the fence. I’m squarely on the side of slowing down, taking a step back, and allowing time to flatten the curve, get past the peaks, and maybe find a vaccine or a cure. We need to take our foot off the gas and pump the breaks just a bit.

We won’t. We’ll have to see more people die before we realize that we acted too quickly and ignored the laws that would have slowed the spread.

I only pray the second wave is not as bad as many fear it will be.

Then again, we are learning laws don’t apply equally. Just like our Founding Fathers did away with our first constitution, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, maybe it’s time we rewrite our current Constitution and start over. Maybe the third time’s a charm.

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