SCOTUS sides with injured Iraq War veteran in dispute over state sovereignty

The Supreme Court sided with an injured Iraq War veteran in a case turning on delicate and complex questions of state and federal authority.

Justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh sided with the court’s liberal wing in the majority opinion, the New York Times reported.

SCOTUS sides with injured vet

The case centered on Army veteran Le Roy Torres, who was left with a respiratory illness from exposure to toxic burn pits during a tour in Iraq.

His employer, the Texas Department of Public Safety, refused to give him a different job when he returned home. Torres, who had worked as a state trooper, sued under a 1994 law that protects veterans from discrimination, the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act.

Texas invoked the principle of sovereign immunity, which protects governments from being sued without their consent.

The Supreme Court’s majority conceded that states enjoy broad sovereign immunity. But there are exceptions, such as war, in which the states must be understood to have surrendered sovereign immunity when they joined the Union, Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion.

“Upon entering the Union, the States implicitly agreed that their sovereignty would yield to federal policy to build and keep a national military,” Breyer wrote.

Thomas dissents

The dissent was written by Clarence Thomas, who was joined by Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Samuel Alito.

Thomas argued that the states did not give up sovereign immunity when they ratified the Constitution, and that the exclusivity and breadth of Congress’s war powers do not make any difference in the matter.

The principle of sovereign immunity was so well-established at the time of the Founding that the states would not have adopted the Constitution without it, Thomas claimed.

“Constitutional text, history, and precedent all show that when the States ratified the Constitution, they did not implicitly consent to private damages actions filed in their own courts—whether authorized by Congress’ war powers or any other Article I power,” Thomas wrote.

The majority’s opinion gave short shrift to the “sovereign States” and their places in “our system of dual federalism,” Thomas wrote.

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