April 06, 2012
On March 20, 2012, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals. The question here was whether Congress, in passing the “self-care” provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act, validly abrogated the sovereign immunity of states. Under the self-care provision, a state worker may sue if the state interferes with the worker’s statutory right to a certain amount of leave due to a personal, debilitating health condition. Here, the lower courts had dismissed such a lawsuit.
By a vote of 5-4 the Court affirmed the judgment of the lower courts, but did so without a majority opinion. Justice Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito, filed a plurality opinion concluding that sovereign immunity barred the state worker’s suit. Justice Thomas also filed a separate concurring opinion. Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, but relying upon a different rationale than the plurality. Justice Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Breyer joined, and in which Justices Sotomayor and Kagan joined as to all except footnote one.
To discuss the case, we have Elizabeth Price Foley, who is a Professor at the Florida International University College of Law.