California’s COVID-19 ‘Misinformation’ Law Chills Constitutionally Protected Speech
The New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA), which Columbia legal scholar Philip Hamburger founded in 2017, cheekily describes itself as “a civil libertarian alternative to the ACLU that actually cares about the rights in the Constitution.” It therefore may seem surprising that two California chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have joined the NCLA in opposing a new California law that expands the state medical board’s authority to discipline doctors for “unprofessional conduct.”
That alliance is less surprising once you read A.B. 2098, which threatens to punish physicians for sharing COVID-19 “misinformation” with their patients. The law, which is scheduled to take effect on January 1, defines “misinformation” as advice “contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus”—an open invitation to suppression of constitutionally protected speech.
In a federal lawsuit it filed this month on behalf of five California physicians, the NCLA argues that A.B. 2098 is unconstitutionally vague and inconsistent with the First Amendment. The Justice Legal Center (JLC), which is representing two other doctors, makes similar claims in a lawsuit it filed last month.
The Southern and Northern California chapters of the ACLU concur in a brief they recently filed in support of the JLC’s lawsuit. They say A.B. 2098, which the JLC calls the “Physician Censorship Law,” is gratuitous and unconstitutional.
Legislators who supported A.B. 2098 said they were worried that doctors might prescribe ineffective and potentially dangerous treatments for COVID-19. But existing regulations already give California’s medical board the authority to take action against doctors for “gross negligence,” “repeated negligent acts,” “incompetence,” and “any act involving dishonesty or corruption.”
California courts “have long interpreted the types of conduct the Legislature was concerned about—such as failing to provide patients with sufficient information to make informed health choices, committing medical fraud, and providing patients with medically inappropriate treatment—as falling under” that
Article from Reason.com