Originally we understood it as barring any state law whose

In McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316 (1819), this
Court held unconstitutional Maryland’s effort to tax the
Bank of the United States when Maryland imposed no comparable tax on any other bank within the State. Id., at 425–
437. Chief Justice John Marshall explained that, under the
Supremacy Clause, “the States have no power, by taxation
Cite as: 596 U. S. ____ (2022) 5
Opinion of the Court
or otherwise, to retard, impede, burden, or in any manner
control, the operations of the constitutional laws enacted by
Congress to carry into execution the powers vested in the
general government.” Id., at 436. The Court thus interpreted the Constitution as prohibiting States from interfering with or controlling the operations of the Federal Government.
Over time this constitutional doctrine, often called the intergovernmental immunity doctrine, 

evolved. Originally
we understood it as barring any state law whose “effect . . .
was or might be to increase the cost to the Federal Government of performing its functions,” including laws that imposed costs on federal contractors. United States v. County
of Fresno, 429 U. S. 452, 460 (1977). We later came to understand the doctrine, however, as prohibiting state laws
that either “regulat[e] the United States directly or discriminat[e] against the Federal Government or those with whom
it deals” (e.g., contractors). North Dakota v. United States,
495 U. S. 423, 435 (1990) (plurality opinion) (emphasis
added); id., at 444 (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment) (noting that “[a]ll agree” with this aspect of the plurality opinion); see also Baker, 485 U. S., at 523; County of Fresno, 429
U. S., at 462–463. As to the latter, discrimination-related
prohibition, a state law is thus no longer unconstitutional
just because it indirectly increases costs for the Federal
Government, so long as the law imposes those costs in a
neutral, nondiscriminatory way.
We have said that a state law discriminates against the
Federal Government or its contractors if it “single[s them]
out” for less favorable “treatment,” Washington v. United
States, 460 U. S. 536, 546 (1983), or if it regulates them unfavorably on some basis related to their governmental “status,” North Dakota, 495 U. S., at 438 (plurality opinion).
Washington’s law violates these principles by singling
out the Federal Government for unfavorable treatment. On

Opinion of the Court
its face, the law applies only to a “person, including a contractor or subcontractor, who was engaged in the performance of work, either directly or indirectly, for the United
States.” §51.32.187(1)(b). The law thereby explicitly treats
federal workers differently than state or private workers.
Cf. Dawson v. Steager, 586 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (slip op., at
6) (“Whether a State treats similarly situated state and federal employees differently depends on how the State has defined the favored class”). And, in doing so, the law imposes
upon the Federal Government costs that state or private
entities do not bear. The law consequently violates the Supremacy Clause unless Congress has consented to such regulation through waiver.
We will find that Congress has authorized regulation that
would otherwise violate the Federal Government’s intergovernmental immunity “only when and to the extent there
is a clear congressional mandate.” Hancock v. Train, 426
U. S. 167, 179 (1976) (internal quotation marks omitted).
In other words, Congress must “provid[e] ‘clear and unambiguous’ authorization for” this kind of state regulation.
Goodyear Atomic, 486 U. S., at 180 (quoting EPA v. California ex rel. State Water Resources Control Bd., 426 U. S. 200,
211 (1976)).
Washington argues that Congress has provided such authorization by waiving federal immunity from state workers’ compensation laws on federal lands and projects. The
statutory waiver Washington relies upon, 40 U. S. C.
§3172(a), says that “[t]he state authority charged with enforcing and requiring compliance with the state workers’
compensation laws . . . may apply [those] laws to all land
and premises in the State which the Federal Government
owns,” as well as “to all projects, buildings, constructions,
improvements, and property in the State and belonging to
the Government, in the same way and to the same extent

Cite as: 

596 U. S. ____ (2022) 7
Opinion of the Court
as if the premises were under the exclusive jurisdiction of
the State.” Washington reads the statute’s language
broadly to “effectuat[e] a complete waiver of intergovernmental immunity as to workers’ compensation on federal
lands or projects.” Brief for Respondents 34 (emphasis
added). And Washington asserts that it has acted within
the scope of this waiver by “apply[ing]” a “state workers’
compensation law” to federal “lands” and “projects” at the
Hanford site just “as if the premises were under the exclusive jurisdiction of the State.”
In our view, however, §3172’s waiver does not “clearly
and unambiguously” authorize a State to enact a discriminatory law that facially singles out the Federal Government
for unfavorable treatment. One can reasonably read the
statute as containing a narrower waiver of immunity,
namely, as only authorizing a State to extend its generally
applicable state workers’ compensation laws to federal
lands and projects within the State.
For one thing, the statute requires state enforcement authorities to apply state laws to federal premises “in the
same way and to the same extent as if the premises were
under the exclusive jurisdiction of the State.” §3172(a).
The “in the same way and to the same extent” language
suggests that the statute contemplates laws that could apply to state, as well as to federal, premises and employees.
The statute also gives to “[t]he state authority charged
with enforcing . . . the state workers’ compensation laws”
the power to “apply the laws to” federal lands and projects.
Ibid. (emphasis added). This language seems to contemplate application of state provisions that apply at least in
part to nonfederal (i.e., state and private) workers. After
all, those are the laws that state enforcement authorities
ordinarily enforce.
Further, the title of the statutory waiver provision refers
to the “Extension of state workers’ compensation laws to
buildings, works, and property of the Federal Government.”

Opinion of the Court
§3172 (emphasis added; boldface deleted). The word “extension” suggests application to federal premises of a
State’s generally applicable workers’ compensation laws—

 laws that have some independent significance beyond the
federal context.
Finally, preventing discrimination against the Federal
Government lies at the heart of the Constitution’s intergovernmental immunity doctrine. See County of Fresno, 429
U. S., at 462–464; Washington, 460 U. S., at 545–546.
Without the prohibition on discrimination, what prevents a
State from imposing unduly high costs on the Federal Government for the benefit of the State’s own citizens? To put
the point more specifically, if discrimination is permissible
here, what prevents Washington from bestowing a windfall
upon its residents through an especially generous workers’
compensation scheme financed exclusively by the Federal
Government? Washington’s voters would not mind; they
would not pay for the costs of the scheme. And some Washington residents—

those working for the Federal Government—would benefit from it. The nondiscrimination principle provides a political check on the State’s ability to
impose such laws by ensuring that the State’s own citizens
shoulder at least some of the costs. See McCulloch, 4
Wheat., at 428, 435–436. Discriminatory provisions like
the one before us contain no such ballot-box safeguard.
That fact reinforces the need to read waivers of intergovernmental immunity narrowly, at least where a State
claims that Congress has waived immunity from discriminatory state laws. In our view, for the reasons we have
stated, the statutory language of §3172’s waiver permits a
reading that does not allow discrimination against the Federal Government. The waiver thus does not “‘clear[ly] and
unambiguous[ly]’” authorize Washington’s discriminatory
law. Goodyear Atomic, 486 U. S., at 180; cf. FAA v. Cooper,
566 U. S. 284, 299 (2012) (noting that a statute does not

Cite as: 596 U. S. ____ (2022) 9
Opinion of the Court
“unequivocally” waive Federal Government’s sovereign immunity if “it is plausible to read the statute” differently).

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