SCOTUS Has Jurisdiction In Any Lawsuits Between States

SCOTUS Refuses to Hear Colorado Cannabis Suit that Kansas and Nebraska brought against Colorado. The six justices who made the decision to deny certiorari did not offer any commentary as to why they will not hear this case. Justices Clarance Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, stating only that they would have allowed the court to hear and rule on the case. Because SCOTUS has exclusive jurisdiction in any lawsuit between states, this refusal essentially ends the lawsuit because no lower court has sufficient power to adjudicate a dispute between sovereign states.

As we discussed in a previous blog post, KS and NE were suing CO because CO legalization of cannabis was causing increased drug use in their states and leading to higher law enforcement and judicial costs, or so they claim. NE and KS wanted SCOTUS to rule that CO’s state-regulated cannabis industry cannot continue because the federal Controlled Substances Act trumps state law under the constitutional doctrine of Federal Preemption.

Since they did not comment, all that we are left with is speculation. Why did the liberal and moderate justices refuse to take the case? Why did the two most conservative justices want to hear it? Why did they not issue any reasoning as to why they refused to hear it?

Personally, I think there is a strong possibility that Alito and Thomas wanted to take the case in order to make a strong 10th Amendment ruling. The 10th Amendment states that the Federal Government only has those powers given to it by the Constitution and that all other power belongs to the several states. This “states rights” argument could be used to curtail the commerce clause power to interfere with intrastate commerce given to the federal government in Gonzalez v. Raich. A ruling like this could make it more difficult for federal law to interfere with all sorts of state laws, from qualifications for concealed weapons permits to abortion clinic safety regulations to school voucher programs.

The majority may have merely wanted to maintain the current status quo until Congress (legislative branch) or the Justice Department (executive branch) remove cannabis from the list of schedule 1 controlled substances. Either of those branches are far more institutionally competent to define and regulate drugs than the eminent 8 justices (judiciary branch).

Refusing to comment maintains the mystery of their true intentions and opinions. Maintaining this public impartiality means that we do not know in advance how they will rule if another case comes up in the next few years. For industry insiders, this is probably frustrating. But, for the integrity of the court and our never ending pursuit of justice, their silence is probably a good thing.