Does Supreme Court decision on sick leave hint at health-care law ruling?
The sick leave provision and health-care law rely on different sections of the Constitution, but Supreme Court-watchers noted with interest that the justices found Congress had overstepped its authority.
The US Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Congress overstepped its authority in passing a federal law that authorized state employees to sue their state employer for sick leave.Skip to next paragraph
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In a decision that sharply divided the court, a four-justice plurality said Tuesday that federal lawmakers had failed to identify enough evidence of discrimination to justify a key part of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The case is Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland (10-1016).
In all, five justices agreed with the outcome, siding with the State of Maryland and against an employee who sought to sue the state for damages over Maryland’s refusal to grant unpaid sick time under the federal law.
The decision comes a week before the high court is set to hear oral arguments over whether Congress overstepped its authority when it passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
While the health-care law and family leave act are authorized under different sections of the Constitution, many legal analysts are questioning whether the court’s conservative wing has the stomach to invalidate an act of Congress widely viewed as President Obama’s most significant domestic policy achievement.
The FMLA decision was authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is considered by many analysts as the conservative justice most likely to join the court’s liberal wing in upholding the Affordable Care Act.
On Tuesday, Justice Kennedy sided with the conservatives.
It was a development that did not go unnoted.
“On the cusp of the historic argument on the powers of the federal government in health care, and with challenges to the Voting Rights Act hurtling towards the court, the Coleman majority’s failure to give due deference to Congress’ express constitutional powers is troubling,” Doug Kendall, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center, said in a statement.
The decision leaves FMLA in place, but undercuts an employee’s ability to sue his or her employer for damages when the employer is a state government.
The key question in the case was whether Congress had identified a significant pattern of discrimination that it was seeking to rectify via FMLA’s self-care provision.
Maryland officials argued that Congress failed to follow the proper constitutional procedures when it enacted the federal leave law.
Five members of the court agreed with Maryland that Congress exceeded its authority in passing the self-care provision.