Kaci Hickox walks outside of her home to give a statement to the media on October 31, 2014 in Fort Kent, Maine. After returning from Sierra Leone where she worked with Doctors Without Borders treating Ebola patients, nurse Hickox publicly challenged a quarantine order by the state of Maine.
Kaci Hickox walks outside of her home to give a statement to the media on October 31, 2014 in Fort Kent, Maine. After returning from Sierra Leone where she worked with Doctors Without Borders treating Ebola patients, nurse Hickox publicly challenged a quarantine order by the state of Maine. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

Maryland law enables state Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein to order sheriffs or police to enforce a policy requiring monitoring and possible quarantine of those at risk of bringing the Ebola virus into the state.

But the law also allows for appeals to such quarantines. And as other states face legal challenges to similar measures, questions are rising over whether they conflict with constitutional liberties.

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All states are given broad "police" powers that authorize quarantines amid public health threats, and the law provides the ability to enforce any public health orders.

In Maryland, failure to comply with a quarantine warrants a penalty of up to one year in prison and/or a fine of up to $3,000. State law permits the use of any state or county law enforcement agency to enforce an order.

In Maine, however, state police parked outside nurse Kaci Hickox's home didn't stop her from going on a bike ride this week, tailed by a police cruiser. A judge, asked by Maine Gov. Paul LePage to intervene, ruled Friday that she did not have to stay in her home as the state had ordered, but did have to continue monitoring her health and reporting symptoms or travel plans.

A Connecticut family, meanwhile, sued that state when a school district barred a girl from school for three weeks after she had visited Nigeria, a country recently declared to be Ebola-free.

Maryland's guidelines are similar to those the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued this week, classifying those entering the state from three Ebola-ravaged West African countries based on their risk of contracting the virus. Those who came in close contact with an infected person are required to stay home, while those with lesser risk, including those who wore protective equipment around Ebola patients, must stay off of public transit and avoid mass gatherings.

In any court challenges, arguments could come down to weighing state laws and regulations against the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which includes provisions for due process and equal protections under the law, said Rob Gatter, a law professor and co-director of the Center for Health Law Studies at Saint Louis University Law School.

Mass quarantines and public health orders have rarely been used since the early 1900s, and they have been historically difficult to enforce, he said.

But in Maryland, at least, residents are given some recourse: Those under quarantine are allowed to request a Circuit Court hearing to contest the restrictions, though the requests don't suspend a directive for isolation or quarantine.

The law also bars employers from firing anyone because of a quarantine order.

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