I was not fortunate enough to have known Dan Meltzer well. I met Danny only a few times. We had only the thinnest of correspondence. Of his sterling reputation as a human being, I am of course fully aware. And I do know his work – all of it – thoroughly. On that point, a mountain of encomiums would iterate only a simple thought: Dan was the gold standard in federal courts scholarship. It is, therefore, a special honor to participate in a symposium to honor his memory.
In this very brief Essay, I focus on aspects of a topic on which both Danny and I have written and on which our reasoning differed: federal court authority, "sitting in equity," to enjoin enforcement of state law on federal preemption grounds. In a coercive action brought by the state to enforce the state law, the federal act could of course be set up as a defense. Suppose, however, that alleging "arising under" subject-matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff sues the appropriate state officials to restrain enforcement of the state statute. Many such challenges are readily entertained on the merits, often because these challenges have a firm statutory basis such as 42 U.S.C. § 1983. But not all do. The Court has, however, asserted a more general, freestanding equitable injunctive authority: "[A] s we have long recognized, if an individual claims federal law immunizes him from state regulation, the court may issue an injunction upon finding the state regulatory actions preempted." Yet, not all such non-statutorily based challenges succeed. In Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Center, Inc., for example, the source of the preceding quotation, a divided Court just last term refused to entertain such a challenge by participants in a federal funding program (healthcare providers) seeking more favorable state-set Medicaid rates for their services. That result may or may not be sound, but to my mind what is most interesting is the intriguing nature of the various opinions, particularly given the Court's unanimous opinion one term earlier in Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc. Lexmark's mode of analysis, if it takes firm root, should significantly reshape long-embedded modes of thinking about standing, at least at the statutory level. These two decisions and their intersection are the focus of this brief Essay.
Henry P. Monaghan,
A Cause of Action, Anyone?: Federal Equity and the Preemption of State Law,
Notre Dame L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/779