Monday, May 14, 2018
The Supreme Court ruled today that federal law prohibiting states from authorizing sports gambling violates the anticommandeering principle. The ruling in Murphy v. NCAA strikes the prohibition the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) and opens the door to state-authorized sports gambling across the country.
While the ruling is potentially quite significant with regard to sports gambling, it does not restrict Congress from regulating or prohibiting sports gambling directly. Congress could enact a new law doing just that.
As to the constitutional law: The ruling says that the anticommandeering principle applies both when Congress requires states to act (which we already knew), and when Congress prohibits states from acting (which we didn't yet know, at least not for sure). That could have implications in the sanctuary cities litigation, which involves, among other things, the federal prohibition against state and local governments from restricting their officers in cooperating with federal immigration agents.
The case arose when New Jersey challenged the prohibition on state-authorized sports gambling in the PASPA under the anticommandeering principle. New Jersey sought to revoke its law prohibiting sports gambling, but the NCAA sued, arguing that New Jersey's proposed revocation violated the PASPA's provision that forbids a state "to sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize by law or compact . . . a lottery, sweepstakes, or other betting, gambling, or wagering scheme" based on a competitive sporting events and forbids "a person to sponsor, operate, advertise, or promote" those gaming schemes if done "pursuant to the law or compact of a governmental entity." (New Jersey did this once before, but was stopped in the lower courts. The Supreme Court denied cert. in that earlier challenge.) (Importantly, PASPA does not make sports betting a federal crime. Instead, it authorizes the Attorney General and professional and amateur sports organizations to sue to halt violations.) New Jersey countered that PASPA violated the anticommandeering principle insofar as it prohibited the state from repealing its ban on sports betting. The lower courts ruled against the state, but the Supreme Court reversed. Justice Alito wrote for the Court.
The Court first held that New Jersey's repeal fell within PASPA's ban on "authorizing" sports betting: "When a State completely or partially repeals old laws banning sports gambling, it 'authorize[s]' that activity."
The Court then ruled that PASPA's prohibition violated the anticommandeering principle. The Court said that it didn't make a difference whether Congress directed a state to act, or prohibited a state from acting; either way, "state legislatures are put under the direct control of Congress."
The PASPA provision at issue here--prohibiting state authorization of sports gambling--violates the anticommandeering rule. That provision unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do. And this is true under either our interpretation or that advocated by the respondents and the United States. In either event, state legislatures are put under the direct control of Congress. It is as if 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 is not easy to imagine.
It was a matter of happenstance that the laws challenged in New York and Printz commanded "affirmative" action as opposed to imposing a prohibition. The basic principle--that Congress cannot issue direct orders to state legislatures--applies in either event.
The Court said that PASPA's prohibition on state "licensing" of sports betting similarly violates the anticommandeering principle.
Finally, the Court said that PASPA's prohibition on states from "operat[ing]," "sponsor[ing]," or "promot[ing]" sports gambling schemes, its provisions that prohibit a private actor from "sponsor[ing], operat[ing], advertis[ing], or promot[ing]" sports gambling schemes "pursuant to" state law, and its provisions prohibiting the "advertis[ing]" of sports gambling all cannot be severed and therefore go down, as well.
Justice Thomas concurred in full, but wrote separately "to express [his] growing discomfort with . . . modern severability precedents." In particular, Justice Thomas argued that the Court's severability "precedents appear to be in tension with traditional limits on judicial authority."
Justice Breyer concurred, except to the severability holding on the provision regulating private actors.
Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sotomayor and in part by Justice Breyer, dissented. Justice Ginsburg argued that (assuming arguendo that the state-authorization provision amounted to commandeering) the Court improperly failed to sever the prohibition on state and private-party operations, because they can stand alone.