6-3 Supreme Court Decision Deals Blow to States' Rights Ideology, Strengthens Worker Protections

Thomas and Scalia Stake Out Stance on Discrimination and States’ Rights

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Nevada and other states can be sued for monetary damages when they violate workers’ rights under the groundbreaking federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The decision in this case, Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs, written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, breaks with a recent run of cases in which the Court’s conservative 5-4 majority — usually including Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — overruled Congress in favor of a “states’ rights” judicial philosophy. People For the American Way Foundation joined an amicus curiae brief urging the Court to rule in favor of the state employee, as it did.

“Since 1995, a 5-4 majority has issued a series of states’ rights rulings that have dramatically limited the ability of the federal government to protect citizens’ civil rights. Today’s decision in Nevada v. Hibbs was a welcome break from that march backward in American law,” said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas. “Not even Chief Justice Rehnquist has endorsed such a strict states’ rights ideology that would effectively deprive millions of workers of the protections offered by the Family and Medical Leave Act.”

Neas noted that Bush has promised to appoint justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, underscoring how important the next one or two Supreme Court appointments will be to the rights and protections of all Americans. “The Court’s most conservative justices want to push states’ rights even further, with dramatic consequences for Americans’ rights and liberties.” said Neas. “This fundamental divide on basic constitutional issues demonstrates the importance of future Supreme Court nominees.”

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