Access to Justice

RELEASE: In Torres, Important Victory for Access to Justice, Veteran Victim of “Burn Pits” 

WASHINGTON, DC – Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety, Constitutional Accountability Center President Elizabeth Wydra issued the following reaction:

The Roberts court has far too often closed courthouse doors to those seeking justice, but today’s decision is an important exception: it is a big win for Le Roy Torres, a victim of toxic burn pits during his Iraq deployment, and for other veterans in similar positions.

Today’s 5-4 ruling holds that returning veterans can sue a state to vindicate rights granted by Congress in the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, which protects veterans against employment discrimination on the basis of injuries they incurred in service. The majority ruled that Congress has broad powers to protect veterans under Article I’s war powers clauses, and that states waived their immunity to suits under laws authorized by the war powers when they ratified the Constitution.

As Justice Breyer’s opinion for the Court recognized, “Text, history, and precedent show that the States, in coming together to form a Union, agreed to sacrifice their sovereign immunity for the good of the common defense.” The majority’s opinion echoed the text and history laid out in CAC’s brief, which demonstrated that the Framers of the Constitution gave Congress strong powers to raise and support a military even at the expense of the states. Indeed, the Constitution’s framing was an explicit response to the Revolutionary War, which exposed the war-related shortcomings of government under the dysfunctional Articles of Confederation. The federal government’s dependence on the States, as the majority notes, “nearly cost the Nation victory in the Revolutionary War.” In what may prove to be Justice Breyer’s last, he delivered a resounding opinion that shows that the Constitution’s text and history gives Congress the power to protect the rights of veterans and empower them to sue states to vindicate their federal rights.

We are gratified by the Court’s ruling today and are incredibly pleased to have been part of helping Le Roy Torres win this important victory.

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Resources:

CAC case page in Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety: https://www.theusconstitution.org/litigation/torres-v-texas-department-of-public-safety/

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Constitutional Accountability Center is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history. Visit CAC’s website at www.theusconstitution.org.

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