Supreme Court strikes a blow for federalism and the 10th Amendment

  • 16 May 2018
  • jwoodie
Supreme Court strikes a blow for federalism and the 10th Amendment

The Supreme Court struck a blow for the 10th Amendment Monday in a ruling that struck down a federal law barring states from allowing residents to bet on sporting events.

Via the always-excellent SCOTUSblog, we get this summary of the ruling. Here’s a sample:

The federal law at issue in the case is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which dates back to 1992. The law, known as PASPA, bans most states from (among other things) authorizing sports gambling; it carved out an exception that would have permitted New Jersey to set up a sports-betting scheme in the state’s casinos, as long as the state did so within a year.

New Jersey didn’t pass such a law until 2012. So the NCAA, the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB sued in federal court to block the state’s new betting venue. New Jersey lost in the lower courts. But the Supreme Court disagreed:

It explained that the PASPA provision that bars states from authorizing sports gambling violates the anti-commandeering doctrine because it “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do.” “It is as if,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority, “federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty,” Alito concluded, “is not easy to imagine.”

The majority acknowledged that the question of whether to legalize sports gambling “is a controversial one” that “requires an important policy choice.” But that choice, the majority continued, “is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own.”

So New Jersey – and any other state – can go ahead and establish legal sports betting venues. While we agree the gambling is controversial, and there is a real social cost to the practice, it should be left to individual states to decide whether such gaming should be allowed. That’s how federalism and the 10th Amendment are supposed to work.

There’s another wrinkle to this case that will unsettle some:

For example, supporters of so-called “sanctuary cities” – cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials to enforce immigration laws – have cited the 10th Amendment in recent challenges to the federal government’s efforts to implement conditions on grants for state and local law enforcement. Challenges to the federal government’s recent efforts to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug for either recreational or medical use may also be based on the 10th Amendment.

These are hypothetical situations, and may not come to pass. However, it’s easy to see how these issues, too, could use this ruling to their advantage.

We should welcome it as a restraint on one-size-fits-all federal government. Even more, we should embrace the idea that the Court has found the 10th Amendment and federalism are alive and well.