Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Twenty-one states, led by Texas, sued the federal government this week over the Labor Department's new overtime rule. The complaint, which argues that the rule violates the Tenth Amendment and principles of state sovereignty, puts Garcia, long a thorn in the side of states'-righters, on the chopping block.
The suit challenges DOL regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act that raise the threshold exemption for overtime pay. This means that employers now have to pay overtime to employees who earn up to $47,476, up from $23,660. (The FLSA only exempts "managerial" positions from the overtime requirement. DOL has long used a salary test as a proxy for "managerial" in its regulations, however.) The rule applies to both private-sector employers and states.
The states argue that the new rule will cost them money and require them to reshuffle spending priorities, interfering with their state sovereignty and violating the Tenth Amendment.
The Supreme Court at one time would have agreed. The Court ruled in National League of Cities v. Usery in 1976 that the FLSA minimum-wage requirement violated the Tenth Amendment for exactly these reasons. But less than a decade later, when it became clear that this approach couldn't work across the myriad federal regulations that applied to states in their non-sovereign capacity, the Court walked back. It ruled in Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority (1985) that the FLSA did not violate the Tenth Amendment, and that states had plenty of protection against federal overreach through the ordinary political process.
Now the plaintiffs in this latest lawsuit explicitly argue that Garcia should be overruled. They say that subsequent developments in the law have undermined the case, and that it's time to go back to National League of Cities.
The complaint speaks in terms of the additional burden to the states of the new DOL regulation, but its logic extends to any federal standard (like minimum wage, maximum hours, worker safety, etc.) imposed on the states. As a result, the case, if ultimately successful, would work a sea change in federal-state relations as they've existed since 1985, potentially across policy areas. That seems unlikely given the current composition of the Court. But who knows what might happen after the election.
The states also argue that the new regulation exceeds DOL authority under the FLSA, because the FLSA sets the overtime requirement based on job type ("managerial"), but the DOL regs set the requirement based on salary. This claim may have more traction (in the Fifth Circuit, at least, and possibly before the Supreme Court). It's similar to the core claim in the last state effort, also led by Texas, to challenge administrative action as a violation of the Constitution and the Administrative Procedures Act--in that case, the DAPA program. An evenly divided Supreme Court left in place the Fifth Circuit's ruling that DAPA violated the APA.