Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Wyoming, 460 U.S. 226; 103 S. Ct. 1054; 75 L. Ed. 2d 18 (1983)

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Wyoming, 460 U.S. 226; 103 S. Ct. 1054; 75 L. Ed. 2d 18 (1983)

Facts—A supervisor for a state game and fish department was dismissed on reaching the age of 55. With the approval of his employer he could have been retained. He claimed that the dismissal violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The U.S. District Court ruled that congressional powers were limited by the Tenth Amendment.

Question—Did Congress have power to extend the ADEA to state and local government employees?


ReasonsJ. Brennan (5–4). Efforts in Congress to prohibit arbitrary age discrimination date back at least to the 1950s and surfaced in floor debates in what became Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Protection from age discrimination was subsequently raised to age seventy in 1978. Originally the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (passed in 1967) did not apply to the federal government, to the states, their political subdivisions, or to employers with fewer than twenty-five employees. In 1974 Congress amended the act to include federal, state, and local governments, and employers with fewer than twenty employees. The appellees have not claimed that Congress exceeded the reach of the commerce power in enacting the ADEA but as to the Wyoming state game warden, the act “is precluded by virtue of external constraints imposed on Congress’s commerce powers by the Tenth Amendment.” The principle of state immunity articulated in the National League of Cities v. Usery (1976) is not meant to create a sacred province of state autonomy but to ensure the unique benefits of a federal system in which the states enjoy a “separate and independent existence.” The state still assesses the fitness of a game warden and dismisses those wardens who appear unfit. “We conclude that the degree of federal intrusion in this case is sufficiently less serious than it was in National League of Cities so as to make it unnecessary for us to override Congress’s express choice to extend its regulatory authority to the states.”

NoteJ. Stevens, in his concurring opinion, stressed that the commerce clause was the Framers’ response to the central problem under the Constitution, and that National League of Cities v. Usery (1976) was wrongly decided in the spirit of the discredited Articles of Confederation and ought to be re- versed. Two years later in Garcia v. San Antonio (1985) the Court reversed Usery. In a strong dissent in EEOC v. Wyoming (1983), J. Powell argued that

  1. the Constitution does not mandate how a state should select its employees,
  2. Stevens’s view set no limitation on the ability of Congress to override state sovereignty, and
  3. Congress has not equally placed restrictions on itself in the exercise of its own sovereign powers.

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