The States and the Supreme Court
Anyone who thinks that debate over the values of federalism-the place of state and local interests in the affairs of the American nation-is largely a concern of academicians need only look at recent opinions of the United States Supreme Court. In April 1980, the Court ruled that municipalities being sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (a civil rights statute dating back to 1871) may not plead as a defense that the governmental official who was involved in the alleged wrong had acted in "good faith" (a defense which the official, if sued personally, could assert). Four justices dissented, complaining, among other things, that "ruinous judgments under the statute [section 1983] could imperil local governments."' The Court made even more news when it held in June 1980 that plaintiffs could use section 1983 to seek redress of claims based on federal statutes generally-in that case, the state of Maine had denied a family welfare benefits to which they were entitled under the federal Social Security Act.' Three dissenting justices argued unsuccessfully that section 1983's reference to federal "laws" was in fact "a shorthand reference to equal rights legislation enacted by Congress."' They saw the Court's ruling as "a major new intrusion into state sovereignty under our federal system."' The decision's implications for state and local budgets were made the more significant by the Court's additional holding that under a 1976 federal statute a plaintiff who prevails in a section 1983 action is entitled to recover his attorney's fees.