Gregory v. Ashcroft 501 U.S. 452 (1991)

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GREGORY v. ASHCROFT 501 U.S. 452 (1991)

In garcÍav. san antonio metropolitan transit authority (1985), the Supreme Court eschewed its previous effort to insulate substantive enclaves of state activity from congressional regulation as "unsound in principle and unworkable in practice." According to the Court, state sovereign interests "are more properly protected by procedural safeguards inherent in the structure of the federal system than by judicially created limitations on federal power."

The Court supplemented the Constitution's inherent procedural safeguards in Gregory v. Ashcroft, by deploying a clear statement rule to protect states from congressional regulation. After outlining the advantages purportedly preserved by our constitutional regime of "dual sovereignty," the Court announced that it would interpret federal statutes not to regulate state governmental functions unless Congress makes its intent to do so "unmistakably clear in the language of the statute." The Court then construed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act not to override Missouri's mandatory retirement age for state judges.

The clear statement rule is controversial because it neither reflects an objective inquiry into legislative intent, nor is grounded in constitutional text, history, or structure. In this respect, Gregory may support further process-based federalism doctrines that are not constitutionally compelled, but nevertheless reasonably balance the competing values of national authority and state autonomy.

Evan H. Caminker

(see also: Age Discrimination Act; Statutory Interpretation.)