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Mason professor: Supreme Court decision on sports gambling could have deeper national significance

May 24, 2018

Ilya Somin

A George Mason University law professor says the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) will have significant implications that extend well beyond the sports gambling world.

“The decision is an important victory for constitutional federalism that reaffirms the principle that the federal government cannot ‘commandeer’ states to do its bidding,” said Ilya Somin of Mason’s Scalia Law School. “If the Supreme Court had upheld PASPA—which forbids states from ‘authorizing’ sports gambling under state law—the federal government could have used similar tactics to potentially block state legalization of other activities, including marijuana, assisted suicide, ownership of some types of guns and the like.”

Citing a violation of New Jersey’s 10th Amendment right that reserves power to the states not specifically delegated to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution, the court overruled the Third Circuit Court of Appeals with a 7-2 vote in Murphy v. NCAA to open the door for New Jersey and other states to offer sports betting.

Somin said that powerful affirmation of states’ sovereignty will immediately strengthen the hand of states such as California that are currently battling the Trump administration in court over sanctuary city issues.

The court’s strong support of limiting federal 'commandeering' of states could be a harbinger of things to come should the government attempt to void the legalization of marijuana, assisted suicide or any other hot-button issues at the state level.

“The federal government can still directly ban many of these activities by making them illegal under federal law,” Somin said. “But then it has to enforce the laws with its own resources, which may be difficult to do in the face of dissenting states.”

For additional information, check out Somin’s take on the issue in USA Today and Reason.

Ilya Somin can be reached at 703-993-8069 or at isomin@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact John Hollis at 703-993-8781 or jhollis2@gmu.edu.

About George Mason 

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.