The Spending Power

As part of my draft paper on “Federal Remedies for Dysfunctional States,” I thought I’d pose the following hypothetical. Suppose that a state goes to Congress for a federal bailout.  Congress responds that the money will be provided on condition that the Governor resign.  (And let’s say there are some findings made that the Governor is corrupt/inept/a spendthift, etc.) Would this be constitutional?

One answer is yes because the state is free to refuse the money.  Under that theory, there could never be an unconstitutional exercise of the Spending Power.  Another answer, following South Dakota v. Dole, is that there must be a sufficient link between the spending and the condition to uphold Congress’s decision.  (So it would depend on the nature of the factual findings).  Finally, one could say that nullifying a state election (even through a carrot) violates the Tenth Amendment in the absence of a declaration that the state is no longer “republican” under the Guarantee Clause.

What do you think?

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3 Responses

  1. BDG says:

    The last option is probably the one I would pick. Although I am one of those who thinks that coercion arguments are unpersuasive (e.g., and, even I would not take the view you seem to attribute to the anti-coercion view in the 1st & 2d sentences of your second paragraph. The spending power does not get congress around independent bars to exercises of its power, and the power of the state to structure its own government is, I’d agree, a core 10th-amendment limit (as opposed to some kind of free-floating state autonomy). but this limit, in turn, can be overcome when congress is enforcing the 14th am. (and perhaps, as you suggest, the guarantee clause), which is why I think the Court got the ADEA case wrong.

  2. Ian Millhiser says:

    This doesn’t strike me as a conditional grant at all, but rather as an unconditional grant with an independent trigger. The state doesn’t have any control over whether its governor resigns — that decision rests entirely within the discretion of the governor him or herself. In the same way that Congress can constitutionally design unemployment benefits to automatically trigger when the unemployment rate reaches a certain level, I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t design another program to automatically trigger when a different external event occurs, such as a particular individual quitting their job.

    A more difficult question, however, is whether Congress could constitutionally require a state to take action to remove its governor, such as through impeachment and conviction. There may be an argument that such a law would violate the Guarantee Clause, but I don’t really see what the Spending Clause problem would be (beyond the unconstitutional conditions doctrine).

  3. Joe says:

    Well, whoever has the money, has the power, I guess. If the state is willing to surrender its rights to govern itself in order to receive financial aid, then what are we to do about it?