A prominent conservative organization has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider a case involving Tennessee’s participation in the federal refugee resettlement program.
Eagle Forum, a national organization with 80,000 members and founded by Phyllis Schlafly, filed an amicus brief Tuesday in support of the Thomas More Law Center’s effort to get the high court to review the case.
The initial lawsuit was filed in federal court in March 2017 by the Tennessee General Assembly against the U.S. Department of State. A federal judge dismissed the case a year later, a decision that was upheld by a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel in July, which said the General Assembly lacked institutional standing to challenge the federal program.
Since the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office has declined to take up the case, the Thomas More Law Center is now serving as legal representation for the General Assembly.
The appellate court further denied a request for the case to be heard by the full court, so the Law Center asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case last month.
According to the Law Center’s argument, Tennessee withdrew from the refugee resettlement program in 2008 after the federal government refused to cover state costs as was originally promised in the 1980 Refugee Act. The federal government then simply appointed Catholic Charities of Tennessee to continue the program while still “forcing the state to pay for it.”
“Forcing state legislators to expend state resources outside of the normal appropriations process directly interferes with their duties to the state and to their constituents. If the federal government cannot compel a state to fund federal programs, then a state should not be forced to divert funding from essential and traditional state government services in order to operationalize a federal program from which the state has withdrawn,” Eagle Forum’s legal brief states.
Nashville attorney Joanne Bregman, author of the Eagle Forum’s amicus brief, said the threat to state sovereignty posed by “federal coerced spending” is especially relevant at a “time when the needs of Tennessee’s citizens are dire.”
“The ongoing conversations between the president and state governors concerning recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing a renewed interest in federalism – the same constitutional principle of dual sovereignty which is the basis of the General Assembly’s lawsuit against federal commandeering of state dollars to fund the federal refugee resettlement program,” Bregman said in a press release.
The Eagle Forum argues in its complaint that there is no room “in the Constitution’s framework to permit the federal government or its agencies to take state funds without the express consent of the state’s appropriating body.”
“Justice Scalia considered the principles of federalism, the same principles that undergird our challenge to the federal refugee resettlement program, more important to the American democracy than the Bill of Rights,” said Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center.
“Considering the continued controversy between the nation’s governors and the president over the best way to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, a grant of certiorari would present the Supreme Court with an opportunity to calm the waters over their conflicting claims of power by expounding on Federalism 101.”
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