ACLU et al amicus brief: Douglas v. Independent Living

The American Civil Liberties Union (?ACLU?) is a nationwide, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with over 500,000 members, dedicated to the principles of liberty and equality embodied in the Constitution and our nation?s civil rights laws. Founded in 1920, the ACLU has vigorously defended civil liberties for over ninety years, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country. The ACLU has appeared before this Court in numerous civil rights cases, both as direct counsel and as amicus curiae.
The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (?LDF?) is a non-profit legal organization established to assist African Americans and other people of color in securing their civil and constitutional rights. For more than six decades, LDF attorneys have represented parties and appeared as amicus curiae in litigation before the Supreme Court and other federal courts on matters of race discrimination, including through the type of direct constitutional enforcement actions at issue in this case. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (?MALDEF?) is a national civil rights organization established in 1968. Its principal objective is to promote the civil rights of Latinos living in the United States through litigation, advocacy and education. MALDEF has represented Latino and minority interests in civil rights cases in the federal courts throughout the nation, including the Supreme Court. MALDEF?s mission includes a commitment to protect the rights of immigrant Latinos in the United States, and MALDEF has asserted preemption theories in federal court to further this commitment.
I. Enforcement of the Constitution is not dependent on affirmative action by the political branches of government. Rather, from this Nation?s earliest times to the present, the federal courts have consistently exercised their equitable powers to compel compliance with the Constitution, without suggesting the necessity for a statutory vehicle, such as 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for such authority. Those equitable powers have been, and continue to be, particularly important for minorities, immigrants, low-income individuals, and others whom our majoritarian political processes are often unwilling or unable to protect against constitutional violations. Indeed, direct actions brought to enforce compliance with the Constitution have resulted in many of this Court?s most important civil-rights and civil-liberties decisions, including Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954), Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461 (1953), Truax v. Raich, 239 U.S. 33 (1915), and Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925); in none of those cases did the Court suggest that it was acting under § 1983 or another statutory vehicle. That history is consistent with the many cases in which this Court enforced other provisions of the Constitution, such as the Contracts Clause and Commerce Clause, as well as structural principles of federalism and separation of powers.
Such direct actions are also available to enforce a claim of preemption under the Supremacy Clause, see U.S. Cert. Amicus Br. 15-18, including where the preemption is based on a statute enacted under Congress?s spending power. This Court has entertained and sustained many preemption claims in that context, recognizing the appropriateness of direct actions to vindicate the supremacy of federal law. Petitioner suggests that such direct actions should not be allowed, or drastically restricted to narrow contexts, but that rule would seriously undermine federal law. In many contexts, a direct action is the only way in which the supremacy of federal law could be established. Requiring litigants asserting a Supremacy Clause claim to wait for a statecourt action would be grossly inefficient and could result in federal law being undermined by invalid state laws.
II. Direct actions remain critical to vindicate the supremacy of federal law. This is especially true for racial minorities, immigrants, and low-income individuals, who in many circumstances have difficulty obtaining access to, or support from, the federal political branches, and who often depend on a judicial remedy to prevent enforcement of state laws that conflict with federal laws. In contexts as diverse as immigration, housing, and public assistance, direct actions remain the only effective avenue to ensure the supremacy of federal law. Eliminating that avenue would seriously undermine federal law, because other avenues of enforcement of federal law?such as termination of federal funding or enforcement actions brought by the United States?are highly impractical and offer little or no hope for successful enforcement on behalf of individuals directly harmed by states? illegal conduct. Absent direct actions brought to establish the supremacy of federal law by those most directly affected by preempted state laws, there could well be no meaningful remedy for state noncompliance with the Constitution?s fundamental safeguards.
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