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Law School Case Brief

Murphy v. NCAA - 138 S. Ct. 1461 (2018)


The federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) provision prohibiting state authorization of sports gambling, 28 U.S.C.S. § 3702(1), violates the anti-commandeering doctrine because the PASPA provision unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do. State legislatures are put under the direct control of Congress. It is as if federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine. 


The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), 28 U.S.C.S. § 3702(1), made it unlawful for a State or its subdivisions to sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize by law or compact a lottery, sweepstakes, or other betting, gambling, or wagering scheme based on competitive sporting events. It also made it unlawful for a person to sponsor, operate, advertise, or promote” those same gambling schemes if done “pursuant to the law or compact of a governmental entity." Nevertheless, PASPA did not make sports gambling itself a federal crime. Instead, it allowed the Attorney General, as well as professional and amateur sports organizations, to bring civil actions to enjoin violations. Its “grandfather” provisions also allow existing forms of sports gambling to continue in four States and another provision would have permitted New Jersey to set up a sports gambling scheme in Atlantic City within a year of the PASPA's enactment. New Jersey, however, did not take advantage of the option initially, but eventually had a change of heart. After voters approved an amendment to the State Constitution giving the legislature the authority to legalize sports gambling schemes in Atlantic City and at horseracing tracks, the legislature enacted a 2012 law doing just that. Plaintiffs NCAA and three major professional sports leagues brought an action in federal court against defendants New Jersey's Governor and other state officials seeking to enjoin the state law on the ground that it violates the PASPA. New Jersey countered that the PASPA violated the Constitution's “anti-commandeering” principle by preventing the State from modifying or repealing its laws prohibiting sports gambling. The District Court found no anti-commandeering violation and on appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court.


Did the prohibition under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of state authorization of sports gambling violate the anti-commandeering doctrine?




On a writ of certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the PASPA's prohibition of state authorization of sports gambling violated the anti-commandeering rule because it unequivocally dictated what a state legislature might and might not do. Section 3702(1) was not a valid preemption provision under the Supremacy Clause because it was not a regulation of private actors. The Court further held that prohibition of state licensing of sports gambling suffered from the same defect because it issued a direct order to the state legislature. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment.

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