Facts of the Case
In 1996, a marine salvage company named Intersal, Inc., discovered the shipwreck of theoff the North Carolina coast. North Carolina, the shipwreck’s legal owner, contracted with Intersal to conduct recovery operations. Intersal, in turn, hired videographer Frederick Allen to document the efforts. Allen recorded videos and took photos of the recovery for more than a decade. He registered copyrights in all of his works. When North Carolina published some of Allen’s videos and photos online, Allen sued for copyright infringement. North Carolina moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the ground of state sovereign immunity. Allen countered that the(CRCA) removed the States’ sovereign immunity in copyright infringement cases. The District Court agreed with Allen, finding in the CRCA’s text a clear congressional intent to abrogate state sovereign immunity and a proper constitutional basis for that abrogation. The court acknowledged that, precluded Congress from using its Article I powers–including its authority over copyrights–to deprive States of sovereign immunity. But the court held that Congress could accomplish its objective under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourth Circuit reversed, readingto prevent recourse to both Article I and Section 5.
“Congress lacked the authority to abrogate state sovereign immunity from copyright infringement suits. Justice Elena Kagan authored the opinion for the Court unanimous in the judgment. First, the Court considered whether, in the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act, Congress had enacted “unequivocal statutory language” abrogating the states’ immunity from lawsuits. The Court concluded that it had. Next, the Court considered whether Congress had authority to do so. Allen argued that the Intellectual Property Clause (art. I § 8, cl. 8) of the U.S. Constitution authorized the exercise of that power, but the Court rejected that theory in Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Education Expense Board v. College Savings Board , 527 U.S. 627 (1999) , and stare decisis requires following that precedent unless there is a “special justification” to overturn it. Neither does Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment give Congress the authority to abrogate state sovereign immunity from copyright infringement suits. For Congress’s action to fall within its Section 5 authority, “there must be a congruence and proportionality between the injury to be prevented and the means adopted to that end.” In the absence of any evidence of this nature, the CRCA fails this test. Thus, Congress lacked authority to abrogate state sovereign immunity in that Act.Justice Clarence Thomas joined in part and authored an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Thomas agreed with the majority’s conclusion but noted two disagreements. First, he argue that the Court need not “special justification” to overrule precedent