Members of Congress et al amicus brief

Executive Summary

Amicus brief of the members of Congress in the Douglas v. Independent Living Center case heard in the Supreme Court.

Amici, Representative Henry A. Waxman, Senator Max Baucus, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Representative George Miller, Senator Tom Harkin, and Representative Sander M. Levin, are a group of current Members of Congress who support private rights of action for equitable relief in this context.1The personal experiences of amici, as Members of Congress who have worked extensively on legislation and oversight of Federal health programs, including those authorized under Titles XVIII (Medicare) and XIX (Medicaid) of the Social Security Act, provide insight into Congress? intent to preserve prospective relief to vindicate the supremacy of the Medicaid Act over contrary state legislation. Amici are uniquely situated to do so. 
Amici support the argument of Respondents that Congress intended to preserve the private cause of action for equitable relief to vindicate the supremacy of Medicaid conditions over contrary state action. Amici explain that Congress relied on this Court?s longstanding practice of hearing these causes of action, except where statutes expressly barred them. In contrast, the approach suggested by California and the Solicitor General would upend centuries of settled understanding and would undermine the effectiveness of Medicaid. Amici believe that such suits are critical here to protect the intended beneficiaries of Medicaid ? the Medicaid recipients. Allowing for prospective relief in this narrow context supplements the agency?s limited enforcement resources, and can be a more effective measure than using administrative means to cut off federal funding to the program. Because Section 30A is no different than any of the dozens of other Congressional enactments that this Court has allowed to be enforced through the Supremacy Clause, the judgment below should be affirmed. 
Nearly 75 years ago Justice Cardozo set forth the basic principle that when ?[federal] money is spent to promote the general welfare, the concept of welfare or the opposite is shaped by Congress, not the states.? Helvering v. Davis, 301 U.S. 619, 645 (1937). This case implicates not only that venerable principle, but one of even older vintage: the right to seek equitable relief under the Supremacy Clause against state law that is inconsistent with Congressional enactments. 
In the posture this case comes to the Court, it is undisputed that California has not complied with its obligations to fund the Medicaid program that Congress enacted and that California agreed to administer. It is equally undisputed that for nearly 200 years, this Court has heard claims under the Supremacy Clause seeking prospective relief based on preemption of inconsistent state law without ever requiring an express cause of action from Congress to do so. 
Now California, joined by the Solicitor General, asks this Court to hold for the first time that Section 30A is not enforceable in a private suit seeking equitable relief. This Court should reject that position for four reasons. 
First, Congress has relied on this Court?s unbroken practice of permitting suits for equitable relief under the Supremacy Clause. Congress is fully capable of stating when it does not want to allow a private cause of action. And it is fully capable of stating when it does not want an enactment to be construed as displacing state law. But when Congress does not so state, it has long understood that an action for equitable relief will be available to individuals harmed by state law that is inconsistent with federal law. California?s broad argument that such relief is available only when Congress has provided an express cause of action is irreconcilable with the many cases from this Court allowing such relief without ever requiring the plaintiff to identify a right of action. And it is also irreconcilable with this Court?s practice of presuming that equitable relief is available under Ex parte Young unless Congress affirmatively indicates otherwise. See infra Part I. 
Second, the efforts of California and the Solicitor General to distinguish Section 30A on the ground that it imposes obligations under the Spending Clause are unavailing. This Court has routinely allowed Supremacy Clause actions to enforce obligations incurred under the Spending Clause. Indeed, this Court not long ago affirmed the availability of that very relief in a case in which the plaintiffs argued that state regulation was preempted by Medicaid. See PhRMA v. Walsh, 538 U.S. 644, 662-74 (2003). But more than that, the Spending Clause context provides greater reason, not less, to allow preemption actions. California and the Solicitor General assert that the proper remedy here is for the United States to cut off funding to a state that does not comply with its Medicaid obligations. But that would only dramatically exacerbate the problems of Medicaid recipients in California. In contrast, allowing private attorneys general to supplement the agency?s enforcement powers provides a remedy that is consistent with Congress?s goals and vindicates the supremacy of federal law. See infra Part II.A &B. 
Third, California and the Solicitor General are wrong when they contend that a preemption claim is improper here because Respondents are seeking a benefit rather than invoking an immunity. When a state receives federal funds, Congress is equally concerned that a state comply with all the conditions attached to those funds, whether they be a limitation on how a state may regulate, or an obligation to provide a certain standard of benefits. See infraPart II.C. 
Fourth, the argument that there is no right to enforce Section 30A under the Supremacy Clause is particularly weak because Congress has repeatedly debated whether to eliminate Section 30A and/or bar private rights of action, and it has consistently 5 refused to do so, even as it has eliminated other rights-giving provisions in Medicaid. See infra Part III. Congress has expressly chosen to maintain Section 30A knowing full well that it provides enforceable rights. This Court should not override that decision, particularly when doing so would require overturning two centuries of case law. 
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