Opinion analysis: Justices strike down federal sports gambling law (Updated)

The 10th Amendment provides that, if the Constitution does not give a power to the national authorities or accept that power away in the states, that power has been reserved for the states or the people themselves. The Supreme Court has interpreted this provision to bar the federal government from”commandeering” the states to enforce federal laws or policies. Now the justices ruled that a federal law which bars states from legalizing sports gambling violates the anti-commandeering philosophy. Their decision not merely opens the door for countries around the nation to permit sports betting, but it also could give considerably more power to states generally, on issues ranging from the decriminalization of marijuana to sanctuary cities.
The federal law at issue in the case is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which dates back to 1992. The law, called PASPA, bans most nations out of (among other things) authorizing sports gambling; it carved out an exception that could have allowed New Jersey to establish a sports-betting scheme in the state’s casinos, provided that the nation failed within a year. But it required New Jersey 20 years to act: In 2012, the state legislature passed a law that legalized sports betting.
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The National Collegiate Athletic Association and the four major professional sports leagues went into court, arguing that the 2012 law violated PASPA. The lower federal courts agreed, prompting the New Jersey legislature to go back to the drawing board. In 2014, it passed a new law that gathered back existing bans on sports betting, at least since they employed to New Jersey casinos and racetracks. The NCAA and the leagues returned to court, arguing that the new law also violated PASPA, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit again ruled against the state.
The Supreme Court agreed to look at the state’s constitutional challenge to PASPA, and now the court reversed. In a decision by Justice Samuel Alito, the court began by describing the”anticommandeering doctrine may sound arcane, but it’s simply the expression of a fundamental structural decision integrated in the Constitution” –“the choice to withhold from Congress the power to issue orders directly to the States.” And that, the majority lasted, is exactly the issue with the provision of PASPA the nation contested, which bars states from sports gambling: It”unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and might not do.” “It is as if,” the majority suggested,”national officials were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the ability to prevent legislators from voting on any busting proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty,” Alito concluded,”is difficult to envision.”
The court rejected the argument, created by the leagues and the national authorities, the PASPA provision barring states from authorizing sports gambling does not”commandeer” the states, but rather simply supersedes any state laws that conflict with the provision — a legal doctrine called pre-emption. Pre-emption, most explained,”is based on a national law which regulates the conduct of private actors,” but “there is just no way to comprehend the provision prohibiting nation authorization as anything other than a direct command to the States,” that”is exactly what the anticommandeering rule does not allow.”
Having determined the PASPA provision barring states from authorizing sports gambling is unconstitutional, the majority then turned into the question that followed by this decision: If the rest of PASPA be broke down too, or will the legislation endure with no anti-authorization provision? In legal terms, the question is called”severability,” and now six of the seven justices — Alito together with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch — who consented that the PASPA anti-authorization provision was unconstitutional also concurred that the entire law should fall. They concluded that, if the bar on states authorizing or licensing sports gambling had been invalid, it could be”most unlikely” that Congress would have wanted to continue to prevent the states from running sports lotteries, which were regarded as”far more benign than some other kinds of gambling.” In the same way, the majority posited, if Congress had known that the bar on condition authorization or operation of sports gambling would be struck down, it wouldn’t have desired the concurrent ban on the operation of sports-betting schemes by private entities to continue. The PASPA provision barring the promotion of sports gambling met the same fate; otherwise, the court explained,”national law could prohibit the promotion of an activity that’s legal under both federal and state law, and that’s something that Congress has rarely done.”
The majority acknowledged that the question of whether to legalize sports betting”is a contentious one” which”requires an important policy choice.” But that choice, nearly all continued,”isn’t ours to create. Congress can regulate sports betting right, but when it elects not to do so, every State is free to act on its own.”
Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion in which he focused not on the substance of this court’s ruling but rather on a fairly subjective legal question: the viability of this court’s current severability doctrine. Thomas made clear that he joined the majority’s decision striking down all of PASPA since”it gives us the best answer it could to this query, and no party has requested us to apply a different test.” However he proposed that the court should, at some point later on, rethink its severability philosophy, which he characterized as”suspicious” First, he observedthe philosophy is contrary to the tools that courts normally use to translate laws since it takes a “`nebulous inquiry into hypothetical congressional purpose,”’ teaching judges to attempt and figure out exactly what Congress would have wanted to do if part of a law violated the Constitution, when”it appears improbable that the enacting Congress had any intent on this question.” Secondly, he continued, the philosophy”often requires courts to weigh in on statutory terms that no party has” a legal right to battle.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion. Ginsburg didn’t elaborate on her obvious conclusion (combined in total by Justice Sonia Sotomayor) that PASPA’s pub on the authorization of sports betting from the states does not violate the Constitution. Instead, she argued (also with the support of Justice Stephen Breyer) that, even if PASPA’s anti-authorization supply is unconstitutional, the rest of the law ought to remain in force. “On no rational ground,” Ginsburg emphasized,”can it be concluded that Congress would have chosen no statute at all if it couldn’t prohibit States from penalizing or licensing these schemes.”
New Jersey has long hoped that allowing sports gambling could revive the state’s struggling racetracks and casinos. In March of this year, ESPN projected that if New Jersey were to win, the country could have legal sports betting by the time football season kicks off in the fall; nearly two dozen other states are also considering bills that would enable sports gambling. The economic impact of allowing sports gambling cannot be understated: Legal sports betting in Las Vegas takes in more than $5 billion annually, and most estimates place the value of illegal sports betting in the United States at up to $100 billion.
Today’s ruling could also have a much broader reach, possibly affecting a range of topics that bear little resemblance to sports betting. By way of instance, fans of so-called”sanctuary cities” — cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials to enforce immigration laws — have cited the 10th Amendment in late challenges to the federal government’s efforts to enforce states on grants for state and local law enforcement. Challenges to the federal government’s recent efforts to enforce federal marijuana laws in countries which have legalized the drug for recreational or medical use might also be dependent on the 10th Amendment.

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