Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs

538 U.S. 721 (2003)


Facts: Hibbs sued the Nevada Department of Human Resources, alleging that they violated the Family and Medical Leave Act.  The federal district court awarded summary judgment to the Department, saying that the claim was barred by the Eleventh Amendment and not allowed by the Fourteenth Amendment.  The federal government intervened to defend the constitutionality of the statute, and the Ninth Circuit reversed.  The Department appealed to the Supreme Court.


Issue: Can Congress constitutionally authorize individuals to sue states underIs the FMLA a constitutional use of congressional power under the Eleventh Amendment and § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment?


Rule: Congress may enact remedial legislation when it is “congruent and proportional” to the constitutional violation it is attempting to remedy.


Analysis: The Court seems to say that Congress effectively has more power to remedy forms of discrimination that the Court would give heightened scrutiny than those forms of discrimination that the Court would give less scrutiny.  This is how they distinguish the present case from City of Boerne, Kimel, and Garrett, where the statutes involved classifications that receive less scrutiny.  In those cases, the Court found that the response of Congress was not “congruent and proportional” and thus it ran afoul of the Eleventh Amendment.


Three justices concur, stating that they would find the FMLA constitutional under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment without regard to the Eleventh Amendment.  They would basically give Congress more deference.


Stevens writes a separate concurrence and says that on the face of the text of the Eleventh Amendment, states are only immune from suit by citizens of other states, not citizens of their own state.  Stevens feels that making the state immune from suit by its own citizens is kind of a “common law” addition that Congress has the power to abrogate by legislation.


Scalia’s separate dissent claims that Congress can only enact remedial legn[ under the Fourteenth Amendment if all of the affected states are constitutional violators.


Kennedy, along with Scalia and Thomas, argue in dissent that not enough evidence has been presented to show that the states are all serious enough violators to justify Congress being allowed to abrogate the states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit.


Conclusion: The Ninth Circuit is affirmed and the statute is allowed to stand.


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