WASHINGTON (CN) - On Monday the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to a federal gambling law that could have sweeping implications not just for sports betting but for the intersection of federal and state laws.
Christie v. NCAA is on its face a case about sports gambling. Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 1992, prohibiting most states from enacting laws that legalize betting on sports. The law grandfathered in Nevada, Montana, Delaware and Oregon, all of which had already set up sports lotteries before PASPA passed.
The rest of the country had a one-year grace period in which they could pass legislation that would allow gambling on sports.
PASPA remained undisturbed for a decade.
Then, in November 2011, New Jersey voters passed an amendment to the state constitution allowing state lawmakers to enact legislation making gambling on sports legal. The Sports Wagering Act was signed into law in January 2012, allowing casinos and racetracks to take bets on college and professional sporting events.
The four major sports leagues in the country - the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL - joined the NCAA in challenging New Jersey's new law in federal court.
Marc Edelman, a law professor at Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business at the City University of New York, said in an interview that sports leagues have been worried about widespread sports gambling since the Black Sox scandal, in which eight players for the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing games in the 1919 World Series as part of a gambling ring.
Defending against the suit, New Jersey argued PASPA violates the commandeering doctrine from the 10th Amendment, which holds powers not expressly given to the federal government are reserved by the states. The Supreme Court has taken that to mean the federal government cannot "commandeer" state governments to do its bidding by requiring them to pass certain laws.
"The federal government cannot force a state legislature to pass certain legislation, nor can the federal government force a state executive branch to implement its own federal laws," Caroline Mala Corbin, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, said in an interview.
Outside of state sovereignty issues, commandeering interferes with legislative accountability – voters might end up punishing state legislators at the ballot box for a law Congress made them pass, Corbin explained.
"The government is held accountable by the voters because they vote people out of office when they pass laws they don't like," Corbin said. "But if the federal government is ordering the government to pass a regime, it will not be clear to voters who they should be holding accountable for that regime."
In the first round of litigation, federal court in the District of New Jersey disagreed with the state’s commandeering argument. On appeal, the Third Circuit upheld the decision, saying PASPA did not require New Jersey to pass a law or take a specific action, but rather prohibited the state from handing out gambling licenses.
So New Jersey's legislature went back to work, looking for a way to pass a law that would put into action the voters' referendum while still obeying the federal appeals court's decision.
In 2014, the legislature decided that instead of passing a law allowing for the licensing of casinos and racetracks, it would repeal the laws requiring casinos and racetracks to be licensed to accept sports bets.