Virtual Legal Forum Symposium Convenes Top Experts to Discuss ‘Law for the Next Pandemic’

face masks

Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, ’79, of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, will headline a University of Chicago Legal Forum virtual symposium November 6 aimed at examining issues of law, economic policy, and government authority raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “Law for the Next Pandemic” symposium, which is open to the public, will bring together leading scholars from the Law School and across the country to discuss possible remedies to the institutional shortcomings highlighted by the public health crisis.

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic exposed unexpected weaknesses in our system, in healthcare, in the workplace, in our institutions, and importantly in the law,” said Claire Lee, editor-in-chief of the Legal Forum, which hosts a conference each autumn examining a single, timely topic. The papers produced for the symposium provide material for the journal’s annual volume, which comes out about a year later. “Realizing that this pandemic is not our first global health crisis, nor our last, Legal Forum sought out to prepare for what’s to come, to bring together legal scholars to discuss what deficiencies in the law COVID-19 exposed and how to prepare for the next pandemic.”

The midday question-and-answer session between Pallmeyer and Jonathan Masur, the John P. Wilson Professor of Law, will explore the federal courts’ response to COVID-19.

“Chief Judge Pallmeyer is at the front lines of the federal courts’ response to COVID-19,” Lee said. “Not only has she adapted to virtual and socially distanced court operations, she sees new COVID-19 claims and issues daily. This perspective is vital to understanding both the law during a global pandemic, but the logistical challenges our legal system faces.”

In addition to the keynote Q&A, the symposium will feature three panel discussions. Professors Jennifer Nou and Daniel Hemel, both experts in administrative law, are serving as faculty advisors and will participate in the event.

Nou will moderate a discussion on “Government Authority in Public Health Emergencies.” Among the topics: the implications of broad closures and lockdowns on citizen’s economic rights; the use of tribal checkpoints to curb the virus’s spread; and “Ethical Issues in Pandemic Response: Examples from India,” the latter of which will be presented by Anup Malani, the Lee and Brena Freeman Professor of Law.

During a panel on “Pandemics and Economic Policy,” Hemel will present a paper exploring the challenges around creating long-term incentives for social distancing. He’ll discuss the public health significance of programs such as unemployment insurance and a universal basic income and address issues around childhood education. Professor Anthony Casey, the director of the Law School’s Center on Law and Finance and the deputy dean, will explore government and legal responses to the economic and financial crisis, including the role of bankruptcy proceedings, bailouts, subsidies, and bail-ins.

The symposium will close with a broad look at how the law has adapted to past pandemics, how it is adapting to this one—and how the focus might shift in the future.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives, and accordingly it has had, and will continue to have, huge ramifications in the law. I look forward to hearing how legal scholars from a wide array of subject areas are approaching the issues the pandemic has raised,” said Megan Delurey, ’21, the Legal Forum’s symposium editor. “I believe many creative legal solutions will be born out of the necessity this pandemic has created. I'm hopeful that the ideas the scholars discuss at the symposium will be one small step in helping to create a more resilient society, one that is better prepared for the next pandemic.” 

The symposium will run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, November 6, 2020. Visit the Law School’s event page to register. Read about last year’s symposium on free speech, which will be the focus of the Legal Forum volume due out later this month.