US Supreme Court rules that Hanford-worker federal entitlements are discriminatory

Jun 21, 2022, 10:19 AM | Updated: 10:42 am
Hanford ruling...
The Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility is seen at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

In a ruling against Washington state, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that a 2018 law — allowing for workers’ compensation for federal contract workers at a decommissioned nuclear facility — is unconstitutional.

The law would’ve made it easier for Hanford site workers to sue the federal government for compensation benefits over illnesses associated with radioactive waste generated at the nuclear facility — one of the first full-scale plutonium production reactors in the world, used in the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb.

End of World War II was dawn of new era of military spending in Northwest

The Court invoked the Supremacy Clause, or intergovernmental immunity, in its decision — constitutional law which guarantees federal precedence over state law. In a slip opinion, the Court held that the workers’ compensation “singled out the Federal Government for unfavorable treatment,” referencing the estimated millions of dollars of cost.

This ruling explained that because the law specified the ability for workers to specifically take action against the federal government, it oversteps the state’s ability to regulate federal authority, which is interpreted as unconstitutional.

SB 5890, the law in question, was updated in 2022 to preempt a ruling against Washington state, and the Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson argues that Tuesday’s ruling “has little practical impact” on Washington workers.

United States v. Washington et al dates back to a 2018 Trump administration challenge. In the case’s current iteration, the State of Washington argued that, because the law was updated in 2022 to more broadly apply to most workers at any nuclear waste facility, rather than just federal contract workers at Hanford, the law no longer discriminates against the federal government.

“Because the legislature already fixed the issues the federal government raised, there is little practical impact in Washington as a result of this ruling,” Ferguson wrote in a news release

“Hanford workers, and all others working with dangerous radioactive waste, remain protected. The federal government has not challenged this new law. If they do, we will defend these protections all the way back up to the Supreme Court again if we have to.”

In the unanimous ruling, Justice Stephen Breyer responded to Washington’s argument that the updated law renders Tuesday’s ruling moot.

“The United States asserts that, if we rule in its favor, it will either recoup or avoid paying between $17 million and $37 million in workers’ compensation claims that lower courts have awarded under the earlier law,” Breyer wrote, referencing at least $17 million already paid out by the federal government to Hanford workers

“Washington argues that, even if the United States wins, the Government will not recover or avoid any payments because the new statute applies retroactively and is broad enough to encompass any claim filed under the earlier law.”

“But it is not our practice to interpret statutes in the first instance … and we decline to do so here by deciding the retroactivity or breadth of Washington’s new law. Nor do we know how Washington’s state courts will resolve these questions. It is thus not ‘impossible’ that the United States will recover money if we rule in its favor, and this case is not moot.”

Local News

Associated Press

Man charged with murder in deaths of missing mom, girl

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — The man named as a person of interest in the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend and her 7-year-old daughter was charged with two counts of murder in their deaths, police in Washington state said Friday. Detectives from the Vancouver Police Department booked Kirkland Warren for two counts of first-degree murder Friday after […]
1 day ago
KIRO Newsradio Newsdesk

Manufactured roadblocks lead to attempted kidnapping in Pierce County

The woman described the suspect as a Hispanic male between 20 and 30 years of age. He is approximately 5-foot-7.
1 day ago
human trafficking...
Shawn Garrett, KIRO 7 News

Vashon Island man arrested on ten federal charges related to human trafficking

According to the media release, Ruiz-Hernandez used force, threats of force, and physical violence to force an adult to work for him.
1 day ago
the last of us...
Frank Sumrall

‘The Last of Us’ Season 2, set in Seattle, to be filmed in BC

The series premiere was watched by 4.7 million viewers on the first day it was released — the second-biggest for HBO since 2010.
1 day ago
capitol campus...
Nicole Jennings

WSP prepares for any Trump-related unrest at WA State Capitol

The WSP is gearing up in case there is unrest on the State Capitol Campus in Olympia when former President Trump is arraigned.
1 day ago
road closures...
Nate Connors

Weekend Traffic: Daffodil Parade, Monster Jam to cause slowdowns

Drivers will have to navigate a number of road closures along the many parade routes for the Daffodil Festival for most of Saturday.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.
Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.
SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
US Supreme Court rules that Hanford-worker federal entitlements are discriminatory