The Federalism Project

American Enterprise Institute

                    2003-4 Term          

2002 Term information here

Sovereign Immunity

Frew v. Hawkins

Do states waive their immunity when they sign consent decrees? 

Oral arguments: October 7, 2003

Something for everyone with an interest in federalism: Frew v Hawkins, which grew out of a Medicaid lawsuit in Texas, takes up Section 1983 law, statutory intent, state sovereign immunity, and the enforceability, in federal court, of state consent decrees. (As an added attraction, there's a passionate amicus brief signed by the odd assemblage of AARP, the ACLU, and the anti-defamation league). 

Some background on the case: after being sued for failing its obligations to children under Medicaid law, Texas agreed to change its ways by signing on to a consent decree. Plaintiffs weren't impressed with the results and, two years later, filed a motion in federal court to enforce the agreement. Texas health officials, in response, appealed to the 5th Circuit. They claimed to be in compliance with the decree, thank you very much, and immune from compliance action under the11th Amendment.

The Supremes have decided many cases in recent years regarding states' immunity from suits under state and federal statutes. Here, they will decide if states are immune from enforcement actions based on their own agreements. 

Specific questions in this case:

Do State officials waive Eleventh Amendment immunity by urging the district court to adopt a consent decree when the decree is based on federal law and specifically provides for the district court's ongoing supervision of the officials' decree compliance?

Does the Eleventh Amendment bar a district court from enforcing a consent decree entered into by State officials unless the plaintiffs show that the "decree violation is also a violation of a federal right" remediable under 42 U.S.C 1983?

5th Circuit opinion here

Lane v. Tennessee

Are states immune from damage claims under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ?

6th Circuit opinion here

States' Rights vs. Federal Rights

Locke v. Davey

Does the First Amendment trump a state constitutional provision prohibiting the use of state money for religious instruction? 


Engine Manufacturers Association v. South Coast Air Quality Management District

Does the federal Clean Air Act preempt California's stringent "fleet rules" program that regulates auto emissions?

2002 Term

2001 Term

2000 Term

Selected issues are highlighted in selected cases; neither the list nor the summaries are intended to be comprehensive