New spring course explores ‘Law in the Time of COVID-19’

As part of an innovative new spring course, UW Law students are exploring how to use legal tools to assuage impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, safeguard American democratic institutions and break down barriers to legal services.

Developed in time for the start of the spring quarter, Law in the Time of COVID-19 surveys legal issues at play in managing, or reacting to, the global public health crisis. The course features public panels on various political, constitutional and legal principles involved in short- and long-term crisis response efforts, with an ultimate focus on students’ opportunities to learn about and help Seattle’s most vulnerable communities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic impacts all areas of law and human interaction, including the power of government, individual liberties, health law, employment law and immigration law, just to name a few,” said Scott Schumacher, UW Law associate dean for academic administration who co-leads the class.

“The Law in the Time of COVID-19 course is designed to introduce students and the public to the pandemic’s impact on these and other areas of the law, as well as the role law can play in shaping society’s response to the pandemic. The course will show that law, if used wisely, can be a positive force in a time of crisis.”

The course brings together UW Law faculty and external experts from around the country to discuss various COVID-19-related topics: global health; constitutional law (government and civil liberties); labor and employment law; vulnerable communities; operation of the courts and legal system; and remote legal services.

We can emerge from this crisis and have a vaccine and be better in terms of health, but if we haven’t paid attention to our constitutional rights and civil liberties along the way, we will emerge as a weaker democracy and as a society more divided than ever.

Zahr Said

Because of widespread interest and the importance of the topic, instructors are sharing much of the content with the public. The panels are broadcast live online and then posted on the course page.

Following hourlong panel sessions, students are invited to reflect on how to turn insights into actionable steps to help communities. Final projects can be academic papers on the legal issues, policy proposals for governments or companies, or plans for community service or pro bono projects.

The focus on service is one of the key aspects that makes the course unique among peer institutions, said Zahr Said, UW Law associate dean for research and faculty development. Said co-teaches the class with Schumacher.

“We can emerge from this crisis, have a vaccine and be better in terms of health, but if we haven’t paid attention to our constitutional rights and civil liberties along the way, we will emerge as a weaker democracy,” Said said.

She noted how the crisis’ effects on the legal system produce disproportionate impacts on society’s most vulnerable populations in many critical areas, such as immigration and criminal justice. Detainees may be forced to wait an unconstitutional amount of time for trials. Non-violent offenders may find themselves incarcerated for longer periods. Asylum seekers may be caught in limbo.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, which means there are myriad opportunities for the UW Law community to step up and make an immediate difference.

“Commitment to community gives us a clear sense that we’re all in this together,” Said said. “Ultimately, making choices to do this can help to empower us — through knowledge, service, and the reminder to ourselves that we will get through this together, as a school and as a nation.”

Learn more about Law in the Time of COVID-19 and tune into the public panels 12:30-1:20 p.m. every Thursday through May 14.