U.S. News

U.S. judge dismisses Tennessee refugee resettlement lawsuit

(Reuters) - A judge on Monday dismissed the state of Tennessee’s lawsuit accusing the U.S. government of unconstitutionally coercing it into subsidizing the federal refugee resettlement program.

Tennessee accused the government of invading its sovereignty by requiring it to provide Medicaid benefits to refugees, or else risk losing nearly $7 billion of Medicaid funds annually, equal to about 20 percent of its state budget, if it refused.

It said this violated the 10th Amendment, which limits U.S. government powers to those delegated in the Constitution. Tennessee was the first state to sue on that basis.

But in a 43-page decision, Chief Judge S. Thomas Anderson of the federal court in Jackson, Tennessee said the state lacked legal standing to sue.

The judge called the prospect of a Medicaid funding loss “speculative,” and said Tennessee had taken no steps to deny Medicaid or other benefits to refugees.

He also said Tennessee could not have been surprised that a growing number of refugees might boost state health care costs, and that it has “always been foreseeable” that periodic international humanitarian crises might cause an influx.

“None of the events described by plaintiffs represents a departure from the understanding pursuant to which Tennessee has accepted Federal Medicaid funds for over forty years--that it must cover lawfully present aliens, including refugees, under its Medicaid program,” Anderson wrote.

According to court papers, Catholic Charities of Tennessee has administered the resettlement program in that state since Tennessee in 2008 announced its withdrawal, but legislators objected to taxpayers having to fund its costs.

The lawsuit had been brought by Tennessee’s Republican-led general assembly and two legislators. Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, is not among the plaintiffs.

Michelle Piccolo, a spokeswoman for the Thomas More Law Center, which represented the plaintiffs, said the nonprofit law firm was reviewing the decision.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) had opposed the lawsuit.

Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of TIRRC, in a statement called the decision “a victory for our members, for refugee families, and for the majority of Tennesseans whose faith and values call them to welcome families fleeing violence and war.”

The case is Tennessee et al v. U.S. Department of State et al, U.S. District Court, Western District of Tennessee, No. 17-01040.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio