On Dec. 4, the Supreme Court will hear a case concerning the future of sports gambling in America and the limits of federal power in the country. That case is Christie v. NCAA and it could dramatically limit federal overreach when it comes to state policies relating to gambling.

The case revolves around a lawsuit filed by the State of New Jersey that seeks to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 on the basis of its unconstitutionality.

The state of New Jersey claims that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act—a federal law that prohibits states that didn’t have preexisting sports betting from authorizing sports gambling within its borders—is a violation of the Tenth Amendment. Under the Tenth, there are powers reserved for states and individuals that are exempt from federal meddling.

According to the suit, PASPA impinges on the state’s right to alter their independent laws in violation of the “anti-commandeering” doctrine. The doctrine, previously upheld by the Supreme Court primarily in four major SCOTUS rulings, shields states against being forced to cooperate with the enforcement of federal law.

From a state perspective, PASPA has served as a great injustice to the vast majority of the country since the only state that had single-game betting at the time Congress passed it was Nevada. Consequently, Nevada has had a monopoly on legal sports gambling ever since, leaving all other states bereft of the economic stimulus that goes along with legal sports betting.

If one didn’t know any better, the statistics would appear to suggest a victory on the part of PASPA. After all, at a glance, we can see that sports betting has become a multi-billion dollar industry. But it is estimated that as much as 98 percent of those figures come from black market earnings.

The potential tax revenue that is lost because of this ban means that states and municipalities have less funding for public projects and services. It also puts people at a severe disadvantage as they have no means by which to protect themselves against swindlers and cheats who rip them off during underground gambling sessions.

The State of New Jersey has been trying to repeal this ban for quite some time, but now there is a real momentum behind it and people are talking. If left in place, this law would trample on the historical sovereignty of the states and set us back by more than 150 years.

Setting the Right Precedent

In 1842, the Supreme Court ruled that states were under no obligation to use their own resources to enforce federal law (Prigg v. Pennsylvania). It reaffirmed this principle in subsequent cases. Printz v. U.S. serves as the cornerstone.

“We held in New York that Congress cannot compel the States to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program. Today we hold that Congress cannot circumvent that prohibition by conscripting the States’ officers directly. The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program. It matters not whether policymaking is involved, and no case-by-case weighing of the burdens or benefits is necessary; such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty.”

The message that PASPA sends runs counter to anti-commandeering doctrine and opens up a can of worms that extends far beyond sports betting.

Case in point: if the 10th Amendment is not upheld in this case, it would surely mean that Congress would be able to cajole individual states into preventing their citizens from ordering firearms from a used online gun store or deciding for themselves whether or not to issue concealed carry permits.

As in the case of the proposed Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, PASPA violates the state right to nullification, a process that empowers states to refuse cooperation with federal rulings. By robbing states of this right, Congress would be bastardizing America’s legacy and its legal precedents.

Fortunately, people are fed up enough that they aren’t going to take this lying down. The Pacific Legal Foundation and other free-market groups are standing with the State of New Jersey on this important issue. It is high time that we limit federal control over state matters.

Sam Bocetta