Civil and Human Rights

RELEASE: In a Text and History Tour de Force, Justice Jackson Plus Six Members of the Court Refuse to Limit Section 1983

WASHINGTON, DC – Following the Supreme Court’s announcement of its decision in Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County v. Talevski, Constitutional Accountability Center Appellate Counsel Miriam Becker-Cohen issued the following reaction:

Through straightforward yet powerful logic, the Court today ruled that “[b]y its terms,” Section 1983 may be used “to enforce every right that Congress validly and unambiguously creates.” Section 1983, a critical Reconstruction-era statute, creates an express cause of action for the deprivation of “any rights . . . secured by the Constitution and laws” of the United States. As we explained in our amicus brief filed in this case, and as Justice Jackson wrote in her opinion for the Court, “‘laws’ means ‘laws,’ no less today than in the 1870s” when that landmark statute was enacted to empower individuals to hold state actors accountable for abuses of fundamental rights under color of state law.

By harnessing the text and history of Section 1983, Justice Jackson rejected once and for all the argument—which has been percolating in concurring and dissenting opinions on the Court for decades—that because the Federal Nursing Reform Act was passed pursuant to Congress’s Spending Clause power, the statute is incapable of conferring enforceable rights. Referring to the “pervasive state-sanctioned lawlessness and violence against the freedmen and their White Republican allies” at the time of Section 1983’s enactment that we highlighted in our brief, her opinion recognized the breadth of the cause of action that Congress created in 1871 and refused to “impose a categorical font-of-power condition” on Section 1983 “that the Reconstruction Congress did not.” As a result, the Medicaid Act and countless other rights-creating federal statutes remain enforceable in private lawsuits. We are thrilled with this result—as should be everyone who cares about the ability of individuals to access the courts to vindicate federal rights.



Case page in Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County v. Talevski:


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