Leading a bipartisan coalition of 36 states, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office today presented a strong case for the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold its longstanding view on states’ authority to prosecute criminals.
For almost two centuries, the Supreme Court has recognized repeatedly that if someone violates state and federal law, both governments can prosecute without violating the U.S. Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy. Lawyers for an Alabama man are asking the high court to overturn its earlier decisions.
During oral arguments in Gamble v. USA, Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins urged the high court to reaffirm the longstanding rule that a single criminal act which breaks both a federal and a state law amounts to two distinct offenses and can result in two separate prosecutions. To rule otherwise would trigger a race to the courthouse between multiple sovereigns eager to vindicate their own criminal laws. Moreover, it would foster mistrust and competition among the states, rather than cooperation – all to the detriment of public safety.
“I’m pleased that Texas had the opportunity to present its side and the views of the vast majority of states before the Supreme Court,” Attorney General Paxton said. “For over 170 years, it’s been understood that if someone violates both state and federal law, both governments can prosecute, but this case threatens to take away states’ sovereignty and deprive the people of those states of their government’s full protection. I’m optimistic that after hearing our strong arguments in the case, the high court will ultimately return a favorable ruling.”
In one of its previous rulings on the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, the Supreme Court concluded that outlawing states from prosecuting someone already tried in federal court “would be a shocking and untoward deprivation of the historic right and obligation of the states to maintain peace and order within their confines.”
When it filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court last month, Texas was joined by 35 other states – including the 15 most populous – representing, collectively, over 86 percent of the U.S. population: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
View a copy of the friend-of-the-court brief here: