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Douglas and the Fate of Ex Parte Young

7 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2012  

Stephen I. Vladeck

University of Texas School of Law

Date Written: May 1, 2012


In Douglas v. Independent Living Center of Southern California, 132 S. Ct. 1204 (2012), the 5-4 majority ducked the question on which certiorari had ostensibly been granted, i.e., whether the Supremacy Clause provides Medicaid beneficiaries and providers with a cause of action to enjoin California state officials from enforcing a state law allegedly in violation of (and therefore preempted by) the federal Medicaid statute. Instead, Justice Breyer's opinion for the Court held that intervening administrative developments (to wit, HHS's approval of the challenged state reimbursement plan) changed the posture of the case and thereby warranted a remand to the Ninth Circuit, which could consider the effect of such developments -- if any -- as a matter of first impression.

This short essay, published as part of the Yale Law Journal's "Summary Judgment" feature, explains the significance of the Court's decision not to decide in Douglas in light of the sweeping (if not alarming) dissent penned by Chief Justice Roberts, which would have held that injunctive relief should seldom be available to private plaintiffs under the Supremacy Clause to enjoin governmental officers from violating federal statutes that do not themselves provide a cause of action. Had the Chief Justice's view prevailed, the Supreme Court would have largely eviscerated Ex parte Young by restricting its availability to only those suits offering a "preemptive assertion in equity of a defense that would otherwise have been available in the State's enforcement proceedings at law."

For decades, the Supreme Court has maintained that relief under Ex parte Young "has permitted the Civil War Amendments to the Constitution to serve as a sword, rather than merely as a shield, for those whom they were designed to protect." If the Chief Justice's position ultimately finds a fifth vote (which, as the essay explains, it may already have), it would turn that understanding on its head, and dramatically minimize the ability of the federal courts to enforce federal law prospectively against state officers.

Keywords: Medicaid, Douglas, Ex parte Young, Supreme Court

Suggested Citation

Vladeck, Stephen I., Douglas and the Fate of Ex Parte Young (May 1, 2012). 122 Yale L.J. Online 13 (2012); American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2012-31. Available at SSRN:

Stephen I. Vladeck (Contact Author)

University of Texas School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States
5124759198 (Phone)

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