A Federalist's Dilemma: Three Cases before the U.S. Supreme Court Pose a Conflict for Some Who Usually Back States' Rights
Soronen, Lisa, State Legislatures
As a state legislator, federalism is important to you, and you know where you stand on the subject. You are pro-state rights and anti-federal encroachment. It's simple, right?
Then consider the Affordable Care Act, Arizona's immigration law and the court cases over Texas' interim electoral map. These three examples may put your federalism principles and your political views on a collision course. It mms out it's just not that simple.
It is a rare Supreme Court term when the issue of federalism is raised in all the prominent cases, and these three are the biggest of this term. The issue of states' rights is central in each case, with the court's decision most likely to extend beyond the specific facts being litigated.
Affordable Care Act
The court is considering four questions in the health reform case--two of which address federalism head on. First, the court will decide whether the individual mandate--that almost all Americans must obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a fine--violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. One of the reasons the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the individual mandate is unconstitutional is that insurance and health care are traditional areas of state concern. Second, the act requires states to expand Medicaid coverage or lose all federal Medicaid funding, not just the additional funding needed to cover the expansion. The court will decide whether the expansion is permissible under the Constitution's Spending Clause or fails the coercion test because states are essentially compelled to participate in Medicaid.
Whatever the court decides will affect both legal doctrines beyond the individual mandate and Medicaid. The argument that Congress can regulate inactivity--not buying health insurance--is novel. Likewise, the court has only twice ruled on the coercion argument. That means any ruling much less a ruling regarding a program as big as Medicaid--is significant.
The Supreme Court also will decide whether federal law pre-empts four provisions of Arizona's immigration statute. The state has argued that the law "authorizes cooperative law enforcement and imposes sanctions that consciously parallel federal law." The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded, however, that all four provisions are preempted by federal immigration law.
1. Requiring police to determine if a person is in the country legally: The court concluded the federal Immigration and Naturalization Act allows state and local police to aid in immigration enforcement only under the supervision of the U.S. attorney general.
2. Making it a crime not to carry immigration papers: This requirement is preempted, the court concluded, because Congress didn't mention state participation in this section of the immigration act, though it did in other sections of the law.
3. Making it a crime for undocumented immigrants to work: The court noted the federal law sanctions only employers.
4. Allowing police officers to arrest a person who is likely to be deported: "States do not have the inherent authority to enforce the civil provisions of federal immigration law," the court concluded.
Other states have adopted similar immigration laws. These laws, too, may be preempted by federal law, depending on how the court rules.
The issue in the Texas redistricting case was how much a federal district court, when creating interim electoral maps, must defer to a state legislature's plan. Texas gained four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives as a result of population gains in the 2010 census, requiring the Texas Legislature to redraw its electoral maps. …