32 teams from 21 law schools will argue the merits of the legality of face mask mandates at the SIU School of Law’s National Health Law Moot Court Competition

November 05, 2020


Law school students from across the nation will compete virtually this weekend as the Southern Illinois University School of Law hosts the National Health Law Moot Court competition.

Thirty-two teams from 21 law schools will argue the merits of a fictitious case before the U.S. Supreme Court of whether a nursing home employee with an underlying condition must wear a face mask due to the COVID-19 pandemic when other preventative options to reduce the spread are available. The court record and other information are on the competition website.

In its 29th year, the event is the only mock U.S. Supreme Court competition dedicated to the always evolving and expanding topic of health law, said Cheryl L. Anderson, law school professor and moot court programs director.

The competition is Friday and Saturday, Nov. 6-7. The final round will be available via livestream at 4 p.m. Saturday via the law school’s moot court board YouTube channel.

Always a timely issue

In this year’s case, a nursing home custodian with an anxiety disorder of claustrophobia was fired for refusing to wear a protective face mask, although workers in prisons, hospitals and other facilities were allowed exemptions to the rule.

While there have been challenges to face mask mandates primarily in lower courts, Anderson said, organizers are not aware of any involving a fact pattern like the one the students will argue.

The topic raises difficult and interesting issues of health law policy, Anderson said.

“Wearing a face mask has been at the heart of our nation’s pandemic response, yet it has been an issue of contention for some,” she said. “The problem gives the advocates an opportunity to examine the constitutional parameters of a state’s ability to respond to a public health emergency and the legal obligation of employers to accommodate individuals with actual disabilities.”

Linking together a large event

In prior years, competitors came to the SIU Carbondale campus and competed in the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building. This year has been a “tremendous challenge to translate a competition this large to an online format,” said Anderson, noting that she and Kristy White, the law school’s administrative assistant, have been working hard to get all the pieces into place.

“We think the teams and judges will have an experience that will be different but just as exciting as our usual in-person format,” she said.  “One upside of the virtual format is that we have alumni from all over the country who are this year able to participate as judges.”

The SIU School of Law, the SIU School of Medicine’s Department of Medical Humanities, the American College of Legal Medicine (ACLM), and the American College of Legal Medicine Foundation co-sponsor the event. As the host, the SIU School of Law is not a competitor.

For more information on the event, contact Cheryl L. Anderson, SIU School of Law professor, at 618-453-5634 or cheryla@siu.edu.