Supreme Court rules Texas veteran can get his job back

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled on an injured Iraq War veteran who wanted his job as a Texas state trooper back under a federal law that guarantees returning soldiers can retake their government posts.

But the decision came over opposition from four conservative judges, who said the state should be protected from such lawsuits by “state immunity”.

The Torres vs. Texas decision showed the court was sharply divided over congressional powers and states’ rights.

Retired Judge Stephen G. Breyer spoke for the court in what may be his final opinion.

In response to poor treatment of veterinarians after the Vietnam War, Breyer said Congress in 1994 gave returning veterans the right to reclaim their previous jobs with government employers and authorized lawsuits if denied.

The private damages lawsuits are intended to ensure that “veterans who previously worked as school teachers, police officers, firefighters and other state, county and city employees are not denied their old jobs in retaliation for their service,” he said.

Le Roy Torres, who joined the Army Reserve in 1989, was called up to active duty and deployed to Iraq in 2007.

During his service there, he was exposed to toxic burn pits and returned home with chronic respiratory problems that made it difficult for him to return to his job as a state trooper. He asked to be rehired in another role, but Texas turned it down. He then sued the state for violating federal law.

Texas claimed sovereign immunity from such lawsuits and won in the Texas state courts.

But the Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the state “must not invoke sovereign immunity as a legal defense.”

A decision in favor of Texas “would allow states to thwart national military preparedness,” Breyer wrote. “If a state — or even 25 states — chooses to protest a war by refusing to hire returning military personnel, Texas says Congress would be powerless to authorize private reinstatement lawsuits against those states. The potentially debilitating effect on national security would not matter. Text, history and precedent show that when states formed a union, they agreed to sacrifice their sovereign immunities in favor of common defence.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Brett M. Kavanaugh agreed.

In contrast, Justice Clarence Thomas argued for a broad view of states’ rights.

“When the states ratified the Constitution, they did not implicitly consent to private claims for damages brought in their own courts — whether authorized by Congressional war powers or another Article I authority,” he wrote.

He also accused the majority of flouting a precedent, in this case a 1999 ruling dismissing a lawsuit brought by federal probation officers against the state of Maine.

By upholding veterinarian lawsuits against the state, the court “is brushing aside a 23-year-old landmark precedent,” he said, and instead allows Congress to “deny states the dignity they deserve in our system of dual federalism.” . Our sovereign states deserve better,” he concluded.

Judges Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett echoed his dissenting opinion.

Separately, the court said it would deliver the final opinions for that term Thursday morning.

Important cases on environmental regulations and immigration are still pending.

In West Virginia vs. EPA, the coal-producing state seeks to limit carbon pollution regulation, while Biden vs. Texas will decide whether the Democratic government can repeal the “stay in Mexico” immigration policy established by the Trump administration.

https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-06-29/supreme-court-rules-texas-war-veteran-may-sue-to-get-his-job-back-but-conservative-justices-dissent Supreme Court rules Texas veteran can get his job back

Alley Einstein

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