This Spring, the Idaho Supreme Court issued several opinions addressing issues of first impression. Below are the highlights from a second opinion addressing such an issue, Tucker v. State.
In Tucker v. State, 2017 Opinion 38 (Apr. 28, 2017) (slip op.), as a matter of first impression, the Supreme Court concluded that sovereign immunity does not insulate the State of Idaho from suit when constitutional violations are alleged. Here, Plaintiffs had filed a class action challenging Idaho’s public defense system and arguing it violated the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 13 of the Idaho Constitution. Plaintiffs named the State of Idaho as a defendant. The district court concluded that the State was immune from the federal law claims but not the Idaho constitutional claims. In affirming this determination, the Supreme Court made two observations. First, many other jurisdictions have held that in order to prevent State constitutional rights from being rendered meaningless, sovereign immunity “does not apply when constitutional violations are alleged.” Slip op. at 4. Second, because sovereign immunity is a common law doctrine, the Supreme Court has the power to modify it. Id. at 3. Within that framework, the Supreme Court rejected the State’s position that sovereign immunity protected it from the Idaho constitutional claims. Id. Any other result “would leave parties unable to vindicate constitutional rights against the State.” Id. at 4.