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War on the States

Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila

By a vote of 9-0, the court this week struck down laws that gave patients the right to sue health plans in state courts, ruling that they were inconsistent with a 30-year-old federal law that administers pensions and benefits. The ruling blocks at least 10 states, including California, from permitting patients to sue HMOs over refused treatment and left no remedy for those who depend on coverage by their jobs or union.

Lawrence and Garner v. Texas

By a vote of 6-3, the court last November struck down a Texas state law that banned private consensual sex between same-sex adults. The decision reversed a 17-year-old anti-sodomy law that ruled that states could punish homosexuals for “deviant sex.”

Engine Manufacturers Association v. South Coast Air Quality Management District

By an 8-1 vote, the court in April ruled that L.A.’s chief air watchdog exceeded its authority with anti-smog rules for garbage trucks, street sweepers, airport shuttles and city buses. The court said the AQMD did not have the power to go beyond federal law and require private fleets to use clean fuel–burning engines.

Tennessee v. Lane

By a 5-4 vote in May, the court ruled that states are not exempt from lawsuits when a disabled person sues under the Americans with Disabilities Act to gain access to courthouses.

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation v. EPA

In a 5-4 vote in January, the court ruled that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to enforce more costly pollution controls on new power plants than required by a state. The ruling allowed the EPA to block a state permit for an Alaskan power plant that wanted to use cheaper and less effective clean-air technology.

Frew v. Hawkins

In a 9-0 vote in January, the court made it harder for Texas officials to back out of federal court-approved promises to improve nursing-home care, prison conditions, or health services for the poor. In a unanimous decision, the justices ruled that once state officials sign consent decrees, federal judges have the authority to make sure they comply.