While the global pandemic has forced many experts to reconsider the effectiveness of domestic healthcare programs, a Yale Law School panel on Wednesday stressed that COVID-19 has also reshaped policy more broadly — from reproductive rights to gun violence.

The talk was the latest installation in a series of events hosted by the Yale Law School’s Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy that will analyze the intersection of the coronavirus and various industries. Wednesday’s event, hosted on Zoom, pulled in 170 attendees to listen to leading legal scholars from top law schools in the country weigh in on legal rights amid the pandemic. The Center has hosted similar series over the past four years, but the emergence of the pandemic convinced Solomon Center Faculty Directors Ian Ayres LAW ’86 and Abbe Gluck ’00 that this year’s 14 workshops should focus on the coronavirus. 

“Almost public policy law intersects with the law in some way, but COVID, in particular, has had enormous impact on legal systems and reveals a lot about our legal systems,” Gluck said. “The intersection of COVID and law is impossible to miss and it is necessary for a law school like Yale that is at the forefront of all of things should be engaged with this in a really diverse way.”

In past years, the Center has focused on a range of public issues — including the opioid crisis and gun violence. The diversity of expertise and viewpoints were evident in Wednesday’s speakers list, which included professors Douglas Laycock from University of Virginia, Melissa Murray from New York University School of Law, Joseph Blocher from Duke Law School, and Stephen Vladeck from University of Texas at Austin School of Law. They applied their expertise to speak on gun violence, reproductive rights, religion and executive power, respectively. They specifically explored how current court cases involving temporary COVID-19 restrictions will set significant legal precedents.

According to Blocher, one legal right that has come into question is the Second Amendment or the “right to bear arms,” specifically as it relates to domestic violence, racial groups that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and gun violence. 

“There has been a major spike in gun sales in recent months — about an 80 percent increase between March and May of this year as compared to last year,” he said. “There also seem to be spikes in gun violence, accidental shootings of children and deaths by suicide.” 

Blocher said these statistics piqued his interest in how laws could change these trends. 

Another prominent issue discussed on Wednesday is how the federal government deals with constitutional challenges to executive orders. Vladeck said that he has focused on what level of scrutiny courts have applied in such cases.

“I’ve been studying the role of courts during crises since I was a student at YLS, and COVID has provided a powerful lens through which to assess/reconsider what we think of as the proper judicial role in emergencies,” he wrote in an email to the News.

Many attendees were Yale Law School students, specifically those enrolled in Gluck and Ayres’s seminar, “COVID: Law, Economics, and Governance.” 

Shea Jendrusina LAW ’22 attended the workshop to hear professors from other law schools speak about the legal response to the pandemic.

“I thought today’s seminar usefully highlighted how courts have been thinking about how much deference they should give state executives and legislatures during the pandemic,” she said.

In addition to Yale Law School students, undergraduate students also attended the workshop. Emily Lin ’21 said she attended the event because of her interest in law.

Still, she noted she did not know much about the field’s intersection with COVID-19. 

“I’m interested in law more broadly but I think the event highlighted the intersection between COVID and issues of race, political rights and law,” she said.

In interviews with the News, the workshop leaders and participants said that as the pandemic continues, more seminars are exploring the coronavirus’s impacts on other fields.

When asked what she hoped the attendees would take away from the workshop, Gluck said she hopes the event was a call to action.

“I wish we learn how COVID has exposed gaps, weaknesses and questions in existing areas of laws that beg for resolution and give us something to learn from,” she said. “We hope we see interesting questions about these issues that have always been there but COVID brings to the forefront. I hope we realize where the turning points are in these controversial and divisive areas of law.”

Gluck encouraged attendees from all backgrounds to attend these workshops, particularly because of their diversified viewpoints.

Gluck said the expertise these workshops brought to the table filled her with joy.

“I love being able to really get engaged and learn from these cutting edge and emerging issues and to be able to bring in such a wide range of experts to Yale,” she said. “To hear their perspective and learn from them very purposefully casts a very broad mat to bring as many types of points of view and topics as possible. It just shows the reach of the pandemic and how many areas of our lives it has touched.”

The next event in the series, “COVID and Ethics, Medical Rationing & Disability” will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

Sanchita Kedia | sanchita.kedia@yale.edu

Razel Suasnsing | razel.suasning@yale.edu