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Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (2018)

Last Updated: 2019

In this 2018 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 violated the Court’s anti-commandeering doctrine. This doctrine holds that Congress cannot “commandeer the legislative process of the States by directly compelling them to enact and enforce a federal regulatory program” (see New York v. United States 1992). The court, by 6-2, also declared PASPA unconstitutional. PASPA stipulated that states could not “sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize by law or compact” sports gambling. However, PASPA exempted Delaware, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon because they already had legalized sports gambling. New Jersey had considered applying for an exemption in 1991 but failed to do so before the PASPA deadline. It is New Jersey that challenged PASPA in this case.

The Court held that PASPA violated the anti-commandeering doctrine because it prevented states from changing their sports-betting laws. Regarding commandeering, the Court opined that there is no meaningful difference between Congress preventing a state from repealing an old law and Congress requiring a state to enact a new law. By explicitly dictating what states could and could not do, PASPA’s anti-authorization rule violated the anti-commandeering doctrine.

The decision left sports-betting regulation to the states, although the Court opined that Congress can regulate sports betting directly but not through the states. Major sports leagues are seeking federal regulation, but states want to minimize federal regulation. In 2018, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced a Sports Wagering Market Integrity Act. Within a year of the Murphy decision, six states had legalized sports betting and most states were considering statutory or constitutional measures to legalize it.

The ruling has three important dimensions. First, it broadens the scope of the anti-commandeering doctrine to include federal laws that prevent states from changing their laws. Second, the Court rejected the NCAA’s argument that PASPA preempted state law under the supremacy clause. In doing so, the Court clarified and slightly narrowed Congress’s preemption authority by holding that preemption must involve the regulation of private actors. The Court opined “that the PASPA provision prohibiting state authorization of sports gambling is not a preemption provision because there is no way in which this provision can be understood as a regulation of private actors.” Third, the Murphy precedent might be used to challenge federal laws that arguably violate the Tenth Amendment and commandeer state authority in other areas, such as marijuana legalization, immigration policy, and gun rights.

SEE ALSO: Guarantee ClausePreemption


Mark Brnovich, “Betting on Federalism: Murphy v. NCAA and the Future of Sports Gambling,” Cato Supreme Court Review (2017-2018): 247-268; Diane Krausz, “Murphy v. NCAA—A Road Map to Cannabis,” New York State Bar Association Journal 90:6 (2018): 24-25; and Patrick Moran, “Anyone’s Game: Sports-Betting Regulations after Murphy v. NCAA,” Legal Policy Bulletin No. 4, Cato Institute, March 11, 2019,