NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Age-Bias Case Gives Court New Chance To Affirm Federalism

October 14, 1999

Must the states bow to federal laws on age discrimination in employment? Legal observers are reporting that arguments before the Supreme Court yesterday revealed that the five justices who are committed to states' rights appear to have lost none of their zeal.

  • The case was brought by the federal government and a group of state university professors and librarians from Florida and Alabama who sued their employers for age discrimination.
  • The case had been dismissed last year by the federal appeals court in Atlanta.
  • A Supreme Court ruling that Congress lacked authority to make states liable in applying the Age Discrimination in Employment Act would raise new questions about the ability of Congress to define and legislate civil rights protections.
  • The Court has never ruled that discrimination on the basis of age is unconstitutional -- and Justice Antonin Scalia said yesterday that he found it "extraordinary" that Congress "just went ahead" and did so on its own.

In recent decisions, the justices have greatly circumscribed Congress's ability to make federal law binding on states.

Source: Linda Greenhouse, "Age Bias Case in Supreme Court Opens a New Round on Federalism," New York Times, October 14, 1999.


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