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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Stimulus Blogging II: Can Legislatures "End Run" Governors?

Some recent news reports have mentioned that governors who earlier said they would reject stimulus money now have "backed off" and certified that they will take federal money.  But, as I described in my first post, "certification" is only one of two steps states must take to receive much of their stimulus money.  For most of the important grants, including education and unemployment, the states also have to apply.   Gov. Sanford (SC), for instance, maintains that he won't apply for education dollars, and several other governors say they won't apply for unemployment (and possibly TANF) money.  Reports are that the state legislatures are going to try to "make end runs around their governors and accept the money."  Can they do that?

Whether they can turns on the question I flagged in my first post: we know that state legislatures can "certify," but can they also "apply" in place of the governor?  South Carolina's attorney general has opined that the answer is no (and Prawfs guest Tommy Crocker agreed).  I think that the AG is about half right on educational dollars, and not at all right about unemployment.  Here's why.

First, let's recall that ARRA (i.e., the stimlus legislation) requires governors to certify that they'll take federal money, but also allows state legislature to certify if the governor doesn't.  The SC AG argues that this certification power is insufficient to empower the legislature, acting alone, to obtain federal money. For instance, the education provisions of ARRA state that "the Governor" has to submit certain information to the federal Dep't of Education before federal money can flow.  SCAG argues that this application language would be meaningless if the SC legislature could trigger federal money simply by certifying.

But SCAG simply assumes that the South Carolina legislature can't apply as well as certify.  True, the statute says "the Governor" must provide the required information.  But if the certification clause allows a legislature to stand in the governor's shoes for certification purposes, why can't it also fill his/her role for application, too?  That seems to me at least a plausible way to synthesize the two clauses; otherwise, the clause permitting the legislature to certify doesn't accomplish much, other than to obtain some small pots of money for which no application is needed.  So, at a minimum, I think a federal agency authorized to implement the statute could opine that legislative application would be sufficient, and stand a good chance of obtaining some kind of judicial deference to that view. 

For other provisions, such as the unemployment money, the argument that legislatures can apply is even stronger, because the statute does not mention "the Governor."  Instead, the section simply requires an agreement between the Secretary of Labor and "any State," ARRA section 2002, or for other provisions the "option of a State," ARRA Section 2005(b), or the "request" of "each State," ARRA section 2101(a)(3)(A).  Since ARRA specifically uses the term "governor" elsewhere, there is a strong implication that where that word is not used, action by the governor is not required.  So the legislature or its designee would be able to apply for unemployment and TANF benefits.

There might be an argument, though, that these readings empowering the state legislature to act should be set aside because of constitutional concerns.  That is the interpretive move made by the Congressional Research Service memo I mentioned last time (as well as by a second memo that I think hasn't been made widely available, but which I have, if anyone is interested).  CRS, following some earlier suggestions by Jack Balkin, thinks that empowering the legislature might violate the anti-commandeering aspects of the 10th Amendment.  I've already said a bit about that point on Jack's blog, but I'll follow up on the avoidance point here a little later this week. 

Posted by BDG on April 12, 2009 at 04:20 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Current Affairs, Law and Politics, Workplace Law | Permalink

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