The Civil Rights of Health: A New Approach to Challenging Structural Inequality

An emerging literature on the social determinants of health reveals that subordination is a major driver of public health disparities. This body of research makes possible a powerful new alliance between public health and civil rights advocates: an initiative to promote the “civil rights of health.” Understanding health as a matter of justice, and civil rights law as a health intervention, has the potential to strengthen public health advocacy. Conversely, understanding social  injustice as a health issue as well as a moral issue has the potential to reinvigorate civil rights advocacy. But given the history of law-and-public health initiatives that have reflected and even reinforced subordination, social movements are an essential advocacy partner and watchdog. This Article argues that a civil rights of health initiative built on a health justice framework can help educate policymakers and the public about the health effects of subordination, create new legal tools for challenging subordination, and ultimately reduce or eliminate unjust health disparities.

About the Author

Angela P. Harris, JD, Professor Emerita, University of California, Davis School of Law (King Hall). Angela is Professor Emerita at the University of California, Davis School of Law, and most recently was the 2019–20 Visiting William H. Neukom Fellows Research Chair in Diversity and Law at the American Bar Foundation. She is the author of numerous influential books, articles, and essays in critical race feminism, and is Coeditor-in-Chief of the new peer reviewed, interdisciplinary journal, the Journal of Law and Political Economy. Aysha Pamukcu, JD, Founder, Movement Praxis. Aysha is an attorney who specializes in equitable policy and philanthropy. She is the founder of Movement Praxis and the 2019–20 Fulcrum Fellow at ChangeLab Solutions, where she previously led the organization’s health equity practice. She was recognized for her health justice innovations as one of the de Beaumont Foundation’s “40 under 40 in Public Health.” In addition to public health, Aysha’s research and advocacy addresses civil and human rights, economic justice, and climate justice. She currently leads the Policy Fund at the San Francisco Foundation.

By uclalaw