Over the past 20 years, the use of illicit drugs (once unheard of within the state) has steadily increased in State Z. Fatal traffic accidents due to driving under the influence have increased tenfold. Drug users are far more likely than non-users to commit property or violent crimes. Clearly, drug users place a significant burden on society.
In an effort to curb drug use, State Z pursues a major reform agenda. The state legislature reclassifies most drug crimes as felonies, which carry significant prison terms. Additionally, in State Z, felons are unable to vote in any state or federal election. The legislature believes that the loss of voting rights combined with heavier penalties will have a significant deterrent effect towards drug use.
State Z also makes significant changes to its state funding of medical and physical health facilities. In the past, State Z has provided funding to all medical facilities treating mental and physical health through its Department of Health and Human Services. Recent changes by the legislature prohibit the funding of medical facilities that provide drug and alcohol treatment programs. There is no evidence in the record that the legislature’s decision to defund these programs is rooted in any bias against drug users. Rather, the legislature feels that this prohibition would further its goal of reducing drug addiction by making individuals pay out of pocket for these programs. A recent study by a university in State Z shows that individuals who understand the financial costs associated with drug use—including the cost of treatment—are much less likely to take the risk of using drugs.
ABC Inc. (ABC) runs a comprehensive and immersive drug rehabilitation program throughout the country. ABC’s program is uniquely able to address not only the variety of physical problems resulting from the long-term use of different drugs, but also the varied histories of trauma or mental health conditions its patients face.
Looking to expand its programs, ABC purchases a facility in State Z. The new location would allow the company to not only reach a new geographic area, but also expand its program’s overall capacity. ABC applies for funding from State Z. ABC believes that its holistic approach to the disease of addiction, which also focuses on mental and physical health, should still qualify for funding under State Z’s new rules. Nevertheless, State Z’s Department of Health and Human Services denies ABC’s application on the basis that ABC provides treatment for drug addiction.
ABC is outraged that its patients, who suffer from debilitating mental and physical health conditions, are treated differently because of their addictions. ABC files a suit in federal court arguing that the withholding of funding from its patients violates its patients’ equal protection rights.
Assume that ABC has standing to sue on behalf of its patients. Assume further that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar this lawsuit.
- How will the court rule? Explain, analyzing only the equal-protection issue.