Supreme Court Clears Way for Military Base Closures; Blocks Federal Preemption

By Shafroth, Frank | Nation's Cities Weekly, May 30, 1994 | Go to article overview

Supreme Court Clears Way for Military Base Closures; Blocks Federal Preemption


Shafroth, Frank, Nation's Cities Weekly


In separate Supreme Court decisions last week, a unanimous court rejected efforts to block a military base closing in a city, while a divided court rejected federal preemption of traditional state regulation that would "profoundly affect the important state interest in the security and stability of title to real property."

The base closing decision removed a cloud over communities seeking to implement re-use plans and cleared the way for the next round of military base closures affecting cities and towns to proceed next year. The other decision marked an important assertion of state and local rights against federal preemption.

Military Base Closings: The Philadelphia Story

In the first case, Dalton v. Specter, Chief Justice William Renquist wrote for the court that

rthe federal judiciary has no role or authority either to change the decision or to alter the process Congress set up for closing military bases in cities.

The case involved a challenge by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to the decision announced by the Bush Administration in 1991 to close the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

When Congressional efforts to block that decision failed in 1991, Specter and others filed suit in federal court on behalf of the city to keep the shipyard open. The suit alleged the base closure panel, set up under federal law and the Pentagon, had rigged the process to ensure Philadelphia would be picked.

The shipyard employs about 7,000 workers and was among 81 installations selected for closure or substantial reductions in the 1991 round.

The administration challenged the suit, arguing that the federal courts do not have authority under the law to interfere with federal efforts to reduce the federal deficit and defense spending.

Congress enacted NLC-supported legislation nearly a decade ago to remove politics from the base closure process as a key step in cutting record levels of defense spending. Since then, base closures in 1988, 1991, and 1993 have eliminated more than 150,000 military and civilian jobs in cities. The next round is scheduled for next year.

The Supreme Court decision is expected to cool efforts led by Reps. James Hansen (R-Idaho) and Floyd Spence (D-S.C.) to defer next year's round of base closinge until 1997. …

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Supreme Court Clears Way for Military Base Closures; Blocks Federal Preemption
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