Arizona filed a lawsuit in federal court on Friday against the Biden Administration due to threats made by the Treasury to withhold COVID relief funds from the state. The Administration has claimed that the federal money should be conditioned on Arizona removing a no-masking mandate in applications for state grants.
The complaint in the lawsuit was filed by Republican Governor Doug Ducey and claimed that the federal government violates the Administrative Procedure Act, the Spending Clause of the Constitution, and the “nondelegation” doctrine.
A week ago, the Treasury Department notified Arizona that two of its grant programs funded in part by the “American Rescue Plan” violate federal regulations. Arizona was given 60 days to correct the claimed issues to maintain access to the federal relief funds.
Arizona’s two grant programs at issue both involve education funding for parents and schools. The Educational Recovery Benefit program provides income-restricted benefits up to $7,000 per student when their public school is closed or places COVID-related restrictions on in-person education, including rules mandating that students wear face coverings. The Education Plus-Up Grant program provides K-12 public and charter schools up to $1,800 per student. That program requires that masking decisions be left up entirely to parents, and any school with a mask mandate is disqualified for the grants.
The lawsuit filed by Arizona alleges that the Treasury Department does not have the legal authority to condition the federal funding allocated by Congress on specific masking rules. The state claims that the Treasury’s claim to the power to enact rules about necessary measures to “stop the spread of COVID-19” is prohibited by the Administrative Procedure Act.
The next count alleges a violation of the Spending Clause. He relies on Supreme Court precedents that require Congress to make any conditions on allocating funds to states “unambiguous.” It is necessary so that states can choose “knowingly” about participating in a federal grant program. Arizona alleges that Congress did not notice that the subject COVID funding could be withheld or recouped because of an administrative agency’s decision.
The “nondelegation” doctrine count alleges that Congress cannot delegate legislative powers to the executive branch or an agency like the Treasury Department. The complaint argues that the American Rescue Plan does not state any “intelligible principle” for Treasury to follow in administering the program to “stop the spread of COVID.”
The majority of American and Arizona voters are likely to be on the side of the governor in this dispute, and it is yet another example of the Biden Administration making a wrong decision about what fights to choose against citizens.