Veterans seeking jobs in state employment just won a major victory in the courts, with the cour ruling 5 to 4 in the Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety case that states are not allowed to invoke sovereign immunity to block lawsuits by veterans who want to reclaim prior jobs with state employers.
Commenting on the background of the case, SCOTUS blog noted that:
The Supreme Court revives a lawsuit by a former Texas state trooper who says Texas violated federal law when it did not give him a new job upon his return from military service. SCOTUS rejects Texas’ argument that the lawsuit is barred by the doctrine of state sovereign immunity.
The Supreme Court itself also described the background of the case in the introduction to its opinion:
Petitioner Le Roy Torres enlisted in the Army Reserves in 1989. In 2007, he was called to active duty and deployed to Iraq. While serving, Torres was exposed to toxic burn pits, a method of garbage disposal that sets open fire to all manner of trash, human waste, and military equipment. Torres received an honorable discharge. But he returned home with constrictive bronchitis, a respiratory condition that narrowed his airways and made breathing difficult. These ailments, Torres says, left him unable to work his old job as a state trooper. Torres asked his former employer, respondent Texas Department of Public Safety (Texas), to accommodate his condition by reemploying him in a different role. Texas refused. So Torres sued Texas in state court to enforce his rights under USERRA. §4313(a)(3). Texas tried to dismiss the suit by invoking sovereign immunity.
Justice Breyer, writing the opinion and swatting away the idea that states can claim sovereign immunity when defending against a lawsuit authorized by Congress, said that:
“Upon entering the Union, the States implicitly agreed that their sovereignty would yield to federal policy to build and keep a national military. States thus gave up their immunity from congressionally authorized suits pursuant to the ‘plan of the Convention,’ as part of ‘the structure of the original Constitution itself.’”
So Texas could not act against Mr. Torres in the way that it did and then, when he sued in a suit specifically authorized by Congress, invoke sovereign immunity.
That’s a big win for veterans seeking jobs with the state after returning home from war not just because it helps Mr. Torres and thus is a symbolic win, but also because it gives the Congressionally-authorized lawsuit more teeth, which could mean that states will try harder to avoid acting a way that would give veterans grounds to sue under it.
Surprisingly and sadly, however, most of the court’s conservative majority dissented in the case, with Justice Thomas saying that the majority opinion rested on “contrived interpretations” of the court’s prior decisions.
Kavanaugh and Roberts, however, sided with the veteran, Mr. Torres, and against Texas. Regardless, its a big win for veterans and their employment prospects upon returning from war.