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Copyright (c) 2001 The American Academy of Political and
Social Science
The Annals of The American Academy of Political and
Social Science

ARTICLE: State Sovereignty and the Anti-Commandeering Cases

March, 2001

574 Annals 158


By Matthew D. Adler


IN New York v. United States, 1 the Supreme Court announced a new and highly significant constitutional doctrine: the anti-commandeering doctrine (Adler and Kreimer 1998; Caminker 1995, 1997; Hills 1998; Jackson 1998). The Court stated that "Congress may not simply . . . commandeer the legislative processes of the States by directly compelling them to enact and enforce a federal regulatory program," 2 and it proceeded to invalidate a federal statute, the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act. Five years later, in Printz v. United States, 3 the Court confirmed and extended the anti-commandeering doctrine and relied upon it to strike down a second federal statute, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. The doctrine was at issue yet again in Reno v. Condon, 4 which, unlike New York and Printz, was a unanimous decision. The Court in Condon rejected an anti-commandeering challenge to the Drivers' Privacy Protection Act but, also unanimously, reaffirmed "the constitutional principles enunciated in New York and Printz." 5 In this article, I will explain the importance of the case law just described within our regime of constitutional federalism, and I will explore the grounds for applauding or deploring this new limitation on federal power.


It is a shibboleth of the Court's recent federalism cases--not only the anti-commandeering cases but also commerce clause decisions such as United States v. Lopez 6 and United States v. Morrison 7 and sovereign immunity decisions such ...
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