A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a law passed by the state of Washington in 2018 that required compensation for certain conditions that affected federal employees and federal contractors at the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant.
Hanford’s workers’ presumption pointed out the federal government for adverse treatment, the Supreme Court said in USA v Washington.
“The law thus explicitly treats federal workers differently than state or private workers,” the court said. “And in doing so, the law imposes on the federal government costs not borne by state or private entities. The law consequently violates the sovereignty clause unless Congress has consented to such regulation by waiver.
Governor Jay Inslee adopted 2018 HB 1723, creating the assumption that respiratory diseases, beryllium disease and neurological conditions and heart disease experienced within 72 hours of exposure to smoke or chemicals are compensable damages for the nearly 10,000 federal contractor employees at the decommissioned nuclear power plant. The presumption also includes various forms of cancer suffered by workers at the Hanford plant, where the US Department of Energy oversees the decontamination of weapons production plutonium for the nation’s nuclear arsenal during World War II and the Cold War.
A federal district court dismissed a lawsuit filed by the federal government after ruling that the presumption falls under a federal waiver of immunity. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in August 2020 agreed that the presumption was within the scope of the waiver and did not violate the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity.
The Justice Department, when asked by the Supreme Court to review the decisions, claimed that the 9th District Court decision was “deeply wrong.”
Initially, the country’s Supreme Court said it was not convinced by Washington’s argument that the dispute was disputed as a result of legislation passed earlier this year.
The state claimed that Mr. Inslee’s signing of SB 5890 in March to increase the scope of the presumption for Hanford workers eliminated the need for the country’s Supreme Court to intervene.
That bill repealed the statutory language by which the Hanford presumption applied only to federal workers.
The new law “formed the basis” for the federal government’s complaints, the state claimed.
However, the Supreme Court said that a case is not disputed unless it is impossible for it to provide effective relief and that the money is at stake.
“The United States claims that if we judge in its favor, they will either get back or avoid paying between $ 17 million and $ 37 million in compensation for workers sentenced by lower courts under the previous law,” the court said.
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