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Civil Servants Must Bring Draft Claims Before Merits Board

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 11, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Federal courts do not have jurisdiction to hear lawsuits from fired civil servants who want to challenge the constitutionality of their firing.

The Supreme Court announced Monday in a 6-3 opinion that the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) precludes district court jurisdiction over civil servants' claims that they were fired for failing to sign up for the draft. The court reasoned that it is fairly discernible that Congress intended the CSRA's review scheme to provide the exclusive avenue to judicial review for covered employees challenging adverse employment actions, reports The Associated Press.

Under federal law, men between the ages of 18 and 26 are required to register for the draft. Those who do not are ineligible for certain government jobs.

In the case, Elgin v. Department of Treasury, Michael Elgin, Aaron Lawson, Henry Tucker and Christon Colby sued to challenge the draft requirements, alleging that the draft requirement was discriminatory because it applied only to men. The federal government responded that, under the CSRA, a merits board would have to reviews the claim, and the plaintiffs could only appeal the Board's decision in the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

The plaintiffs argued that their action was different because they were attacking the constitutionality of a law that related to a federal employment practice. This week, the Supreme Court disagreed, noting that "the CSRA's objective of creating an integrated scheme of review would be seriously undermined if, as petitioners would have it, a covered employee could challenge a cov­ered employment action first in a district court, and then again in one of the courts of appeals, simply by alleging that the statutory authorization for such action is uncon­stitutional."

Frankly, we're surprised to see Justice Clarence Thomas joining two ideologically-split majorities within two weeks. In this week's Elgin v. Department of Treasury decision, he wrote the majority opinion for Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, and Sotomayor. (Justices Alito, Ginsburg, and Kagan dissented.)Last week, Justice Thomas voted with the 6-3 majority of Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan in Armour v. Indianapolis, the tax refund case.

We're so accustomed to viewing Justice Thomas as a cranky, but loveable, curmudgeon. Are these cases a sign that he's going mainstream? What's next? Questions during oral arguments?

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