Dalton v. Little Rock Family Planning Services, (1996)
A group of Arkansas Medicaid providers and physicians who
perform abortions brought a lawsuit in federal district court in
1996 challenging an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution
(Amendment 68), § 1 of which prohibits the use of state funds to
pay for any abortion "except to save the mother's life." The
defendants were the state officials responsible for administering
the state Medicaid program. Arkansas, like all States, participates
in the Medicaid program, which is a joint federal-state program to
provide medical assistance to the indigent. Both the federal
government and the States contribute funds to the program.
The basis of the plaintiffs' lawsuit was that the funding
prohibition conflicted with the Hyde Amendment which, at the time,
allowed federal Medicaid funds to be used to pay for the abortions
of indigent women not only in circumstances where the continuation
of the pregnancy would endanger their lives, but also in
circumstances where the pregnancy resulted from an act of rape or
incest. Plaintiffs sought a declaration that Amendment 68
violated the United States Constitution (because it was pre-empted
by the Hyde Amendment) and an injunction barring its
The district court agreed with the plaintiffs that the
restriction on the use of state funds set forth in § 1 of Amendment
68 conflicted with the Hyde Amendment and could not be
enforced. The court, however, did not limit the scope of
relief it provided to declaring § 1 unconstitutional and enjoining
its enforcement. Instead, it declared Amendment 68
unconstitutional in its entirety, concluding that the other
provisions of the amendment (set forth below) have no operative
significance apart from § 1. The court of appeals
The Constitutional Amendment Under Review
Amendment 68, which was approved by the people of Arkansas in
1977, provides as follows:
Public funding. No public funds will be used to pay for any
abortion, except to save the mother's life.
Public policy. The policy of Arkansas is to protect the
life of every unborn child from conception until birth, to the
extent permitted by the Federal Constitution.
Effect of amendment. This amendment will not affect
contraceptives or require an appropriation of public funds.
The Court's Holding
Arkansas asked the Supreme Court to grant review as to two
issues: First, whether Arkansas and other States that
participate in the federal Medicaid program must pay their share of
those abortions for which reimbursement is available under the Hyde
Amendment (life-of-the-mother, rape and incest). Second,
whether the district court erred in enjoining Amendment 68 in its
entirety so long as Arkansas participates in the Medicaid
program. The Court denied review as to the first issue, but
granted review as to the second and reversed the lower courts.
The Court's Reasoning
The Supreme Court noted that in pre-emption cases-cases in which
state law conflicts with federal law-"state law is displaced only
to the extent that it actually conflicts with federal law."
516 U.S. at 476 (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). Generally, the rule is that "a federal court should
not extend its invalidation of a statute further than necessary to
dispose of the case before it." Brockett v. Spokane
Arcades, Inc. 472 U.S. 491, 502 (1985).
The Court held that the district court's invalidation of
Amendment 68 in its entirety was too broad. First, even
assuming (without deciding) that the district court's
interpretation of the Hyde Amendment was correct, § 1 of Amendment
68 was pre-empted by federal law "only in cases where a
Medicaid-eligible woman seeks to abort a pregnancy resulting from
an act of rape or incest and the abortion is not necessary to save
the woman's life." Dalton, 516 U.S. at 476. No
other possible application of § 1 is pre-empted by current federal
law. "It is entirely possible," the Court noted, "that § 1
would have application to state programs that receive no federal
funding." Id. Because Amendment 68 was challenged only to
the extent that it conflicted with Title XIX of the Social Security
Act (which created the Medicaid program), "it was improper to
enjoin its application to funding that does not involve the
Medicaid program." Id. at 477.
Second, the district court's injunction was "overbroad in its
temporal scope as well." Dalton, 516 U.S. at
477. "The Hyde Amendment is not permanent legislation."
Id. Rather, it is an appropriations rider that is
enacted for one fiscal year at a time. In earlier fiscal
years, the Hyde Amendment "limited federal funding to those
abortions necessary to save the life of the mother."
Id. Because such a version of the Hyde Amendment might be
enacted in the future, "it was improper for the District Court to
enjoin enforcement of Amendment 68 'for so long as the State of
Arkansas accepts federal funds pursuant to the Medicaid Act.'"
Id. (quoting district court).
Finally, the Court held that the district court's invalidation
of §§ 2 and 3 of Amendment 68 was improper. The district
court struck down Amendment 68 in its entirety on the ground that
§§ 2 and 3 "have no function independent of" § 1.
Dalton, 516 U.S. at 478 (quoting district court).
"Even assuming that to be true," the Court stated, "once § 1 is
left with the substantial application that the Supremacy Clause
fully allows, §§ 2 and 3 subsist as well." Id.
Accordingly, the Court reversed the decision of the court of
appeals insofar as it affirmed the scope of the district court's
injunction, and remanded the case "for entry of an order enjoining
the enforcement of Amendment 68 only to the extent that the
amendment imposes obligations inconsistent with federal law."