Thursday, December 4, 2008
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in Haywood v. Drown. At issue: Whether New York's ban on section 1983 damage actions against state correctional officers in state court violates the Supremacy Clause.
A good part of the oral argument focused on whether the NY ban--Correction Law section 24--was "jurisdictional" and a "neutral state rule regarding the administration of the courts." The language comes from Howlett v. Rose, a 1990 Supreme Court case that the lower court cited in support of this: "One permissible exception" that allows states to deny enforcement of a federal right is "when a state court lacks jurisdiction due to a 'neutral state rule regarding the administration of the courts.'"
Is section 24 such a rule? Yes, says the state: It is a jurisdictional limitation based on the state's neutral desire to limit "vexatious" litigation. No, says the plaintiff: It carves out this special exception for correctional officers, treating them differently than all others for 1983 purposes, and reflects the state's substantive disagreement with the remedies under 1983.
The law professors' amicus is quite good; take a look at the excellent discussion of the Supremacy Clause and argument III on this jurisdictional question. Here's the respondents' brief; and here's the oral argument transcript.