Federalism

  • March 2, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    Lower-court challenges to state anti-immigrant laws are continuing to make their way through the courts, even as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear a challenge to Arizona’s law, SB 1070.

    On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton blocked another portion of the Arizona law that prohibits those seeking or offering day labor services from blocking traffic.

    In granting a preliminary injunction, Bolton said the plaintiffs were likely to prevail in their claim that the provision violates the First Amendment, because the law appears to limit particular speech, rather than regulating traffic generally.

    "The adoption of a content-based ban on speech indicates that the Legislature did not draft these provisions after careful evaluation of the burden on free speech," Bolton wrote.

    On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit heard oral arguments in challenges to two other anti-immigration laws in Alabama and Georgia, and announced that it would not decide the case until after the Supreme Court issues its decision.

    Discussing the Alabama law, which The New York Times called “the country’s cruelest, most unforgiving immigration law,” Judge Beverly Martin questioned whether the requirement that school officials determine the immigration status of students interferes with students’ constitutional right to a public education.

    The duty of public schools to educate children regardless of legal status was established by the Supreme Court 30 years ago in Plyler v. Doe.

    Considering the Georgia law, Judge Charles Wilson expressed concern over the burden imposed on the federal government by a provision that would authorize local officials to investigate the immigration status of “suspects” and to detain them, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

    “I wonder what the increased burden would be on the Department of Homeland Security to respond to all these data-gathering requests.” he said. “You would have to create an entirely new bureaucracy, wouldn’t you, just to respond to these requests?”

    During a recent American Constitution Society immigration symposium in Atlanta, Judge U.W. Clemon (pictured), the former chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, called the movement to pass these new state laws “just another manifestation of the hatred and disdain on the part of white republican state legislators for people who don’t look or sound like them.” He continued: 

  • December 16, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Just because the Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s law penalizing businesses for hiring undocumented workers, does not mean the state’s controversial, and exceedingly harsh, anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, is destined for approval by the justices.

    In an ACS Issue Brief, Pratheepan Gulasekaram, a Santa Clara University law school professor, explains why the Supreme Court’s narrow opinion in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting issued in May, will likely have no bearing on the justices’ consideration of SB 1070.

    The law at the center of the Whiting opinion, the Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA), requires Arizona businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure their employees are legally in the country, and penalizes those companies that hire undocumented workers. The 5-3 majority in Whiting concluded that Arizona’s E-Verify law was not preempted by the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act, which states that it trumps “any state or local law imposing civil or criminal sanctions (other than through licensing and similar laws) upon those who employ” undocumented workers. The majority concluded the licensing law, did not run afoul of the IRCA.

    Professor Gulasekaram calls it is a mistake to conclude that Whiting means Arizona’s SB 1070, much of which was invalidated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, is likely to be found constitutional by the high court.

    Instead Supreme Court precedent stands “for the proposition that state regulation of employment relationships between state employers and unlawfully present persons is permissible, if the federal government has not otherwise prohibited it,” Gulasekaram writes. That precedent, he continues, actually suggests it is most likely that he the high court will “strike down state immigration schemes like SB 1070.”

    Although both Arizona laws are aimed at making life difficult for undocumented persons in the state, only the law dealing with the employer-employee relationship, LAWA, is not preempted by federal immigration law. Indeed, the professor writes, “federal law contemplates the existence of state business-licensing laws through a textual exception in federal immigration law itself. And, even with this express exception, Whiting is neither a unanimous nor far-reaching opinion. At most Whiting stands for the proposition that state business-licensing laws that regulate employers will not reflexively be struck down.”

    But SB 1070, which requires state law enforcement officials to take on duties of federal immigration enforcement officials, is another story.

  • November 14, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Fazal Khan, a law professor at the University of Georgia specializing in health law. Prof. Khan has both law and medical degrees.


    Today the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed what most of us expected, announcing that it will review the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. As the justices begin to deliberate, they would be wise to look to a masterful amicus brief by prominent constitutional law scholar Kathleen Sullivan as a meaningful template for Supreme Court action.

    Sullivan’s brief, in which she asks the Court to grant cert in the 11th Circuit case that the justices today accepted, addresses those arguments most likely to concern Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on the Court, and provides ample support from Justice Kennedy’s record to suggest he will and should vote to uphold the law. Before detailing the arguments in Sullivan’s brief, filed on behalf of the California Endowment ("a private foundation committed to the expansion of affordable, quality health care for all Californians"), I summarize below how we reached this point.

  • August 22, 2011

    by Nicole Flatow

    Although the recent appeals court decision striking down the individual coverage provision of the Affordable Care Act was a blow to health insurance reform, it’s important to recognize the victory in this case: that some 950 pages of the law were upheld, Washington & Lee law professor Timothy Jost said during an American Constitution Society phone briefing about Affordable Care Act litigation.

    “I think that the bottom line news from this case is that the federal government and the states should proceed with implementing the Affordable Care Act,” Jost said, noting that this case was an appeal from a lower court decision striking down the entire law, and that the plaintiffs had specifically challenged a Medicaid expansion provision that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld.

    “It’s clear after this decision that there’s no decision out there holding the entire law to be unconstitutional and I’m not even sure that the Supreme Court is going to take a close look at that,” he said. “I rather doubt that they will.”

    The appeals court decision does all but assure that the Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of the law’s so-called individual coverage provision, which requires that most individuals buy health insurance or pay a penalty. (The court came to the opposite conclusion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, creating a split between two federal appeals courts.)

    Both Jost and University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey R. Stone, who also spoke during the briefing, predicted that the Supreme Court would uphold the decision, possibly with a majority of as many as eight justices. Based on precedent on the Constitution’s commerce clause, Stone reasoned, deciding this case is easy.

  • June 24, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Elizabeth B. Wydra, Chief Counsel, Constitutional Accountability Center. This analysis is cross posted at CAC’s Text & History blog.


    Two years ago in Wyeth v. Levine, the Supreme Court refused to allow federal food and drug law to displace state consumer-safety law.  Instead, the Court held that Diana Levine, a Vermont musician whose arm had to be amputated after Levine suffered adverse effects from Wyeth’s brand-name drug, Phenergan, could hold the drug manufacturer liable under state failure-to-warn laws—laws which hold drug and other manufacturers responsible for inadequate safety labels.  Yesterday, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court held in PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing that generic drug manufacturers may not be sued under state failure-to-warn law because it would be “impossible” for the generic drug manufacturers to comply with both state failure-to-warn law and federal law.  Given the nearly identical storylines, how did the Supreme Court come up with a happy ending for consumers in Wyeth but a happy ending for big business in PLIVA?

    To be sure, there are important differences between the labeling laws for brand-name and generic drugs.  Federal law, for example, requires a generic drug to carry the same label as the brand-name drug it replicates.  But this “duty of sameness” for generic manufacturers is tempered by a duty under federal law to report problems with generic drugs.  So, while generic drug manufacturers cannot unilaterally change their labels, they can—and must—approach the FDA to seek to revise a drug’s label when they have reasonable evidence of a serious problem with the drug.  Such a label change would then go into effect for both brand-name and generic drugs. There is no guarantee, of course, that the FDA will act based on the information provided by the generic drug manufacturer, but the manufacturer’s attempt to achieve a safe and adequate warning label would nonetheless likely serve as a defense to state liability.  In other words, if the generic manufacturer did what it could under federal law, a state failure-to-warn claim should be preempted by federal law because it would be impossible for the manufacturer to comply with both federal and state law.

    But if a generic drug manufacturer doesn’t even try to comply with federal drug safety law and state failure-to-warn standards, it is difficult to see how it is “impossible” for the manufacturer to comply with both sets of laws.  As Justice Sotomayor explained in her PLIVA dissent, “because federal law affords generic manufacturers a mechanism for attempting to comply with their state-law duties to warn, . . . federal law does not categorically pre-empt state-law failure-to-warn claims against generic manufacturers.”  

    For the majority, led by Justice Thomas, to find impossibility preemption in this context is to twist the word “impossibility” beyond recognition.