The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 made it illegal for "a governmental entity to sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize by law or compact" sports betting. In oral arguments today in the case of Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether that federal law runs afoul of the 10th Amendment and its underlying principles of constitutional federalism.
On one side of Christie v. N.C.A.A. stands the state of New Jersey, whose voters amended the state constitution in 2012 in order to legalize sports gambling. Garden State lawmakers responded by partially lifting the existing state ban on the practice at casinos and racetracks.
On the other side of the case stands the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, and the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, all of which seek to prevent the state's legalization efforts.
The sports leagues argue that New Jersey is illegally flaunting the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and should be stopped. New Jersey argues that that federal law is overreaching and unconstitutional.
The outcome of the case is likely to turn on the Supreme Court's application of two precedents from the 1990s. In New York v. United States (1992), the Court held that "while Congress has substantial powers to govern the Nation directly, including in areas of intimate concern to the States, the Constitution has never been understood to confer upon Congress the ability to require the States to govern according to Congress' instructions."
Five years later, in Printz v. United States (1997), the Court continued in this vein. "The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States' officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program." In short, "federal commandeering of state governments" goes against the Constitution.
The legal question at the heart of Christie v. N.C.A.A. is whether the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, violates the anti-commandeering doctrine set forth in New York and Printz.
New Jersey argues that PASPA does violate the doctrine and should therefore be declared unconstitutional. "Under our Constitution," the state argues, "if Congress wishes for sports wagering to be illegal, it must make the activity unlawful itself. It cannot compel States to do so."
The sports leagues take the opposite view. "Congress' power to regulate gambling on a nationwide basis," the leagues maintain, "is as settled as its power to prohibit states from undertaking or authorizing conduct that conflicts with federal policy, and nothing in [New Jersey's] arguments calls either commonly exercised power into question."
Which side will prevail in this dispute, federalism or federal power? We'll get our first indications during today's oral arguments.