But other court members suggested that Georgia acted within its constitutional and statutory rights in trying to dodge professor Paul Lapides' claim that university administrators had smeared him with allegations of having sexually harassed a student.
The Supreme Court case concerns the breadth of a state's constitutional "sovereign immunity" from being sued in federal court.
After a university investigation produced no corroborating evidence of harassment, the professor sued the state university system's regents board for defamation. The Georgia attorney general then sought to have the entire case heard in U.S. District Court.
But once the case was transferred to district court, Georgia urged the federal judge to dismiss the case, citing the constitutional provision barring states from being sued in federal court.
Arguing before the justices, Assistant Georgia Attorney General Devon Orland said the state acted well within its rights when it transferred the case to federal court. Georgia then acted within its constitutional rights when it asked the same court to dismiss the case due to sovereign immunity, she added.
But Orland's argument drew sharp criticism from Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, who said the state perhaps abused the federal court system by seeking its jurisdiction for the sole purpose of having the case dismissed.
"The state of Georgia is playing fast and loose with the federal court," Ginsburg told Orland. "It really is something only a lawyer could conceive."
Scalia said the Constitution gives states immunity from being sued in federal court. But, he added, states may waive that immunity when they choose to have a case litigated in federal court, as Georgia has done. Orland responded that had Georgia acted improperly, the federal courts could have used their authority to sanction the state's lawyers.
Attorney David Bederman, pressing Lapides' case, countered that the state had waived its immunity from lawsuit when it chose to have the case litigated in federal court.
But Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was apparently unpersuaded.
"The state is entitled to a tactical judgment that it is better off in federal court," he said.
The justices are expected to decide by July whether Lapides' lawsuit can proceed in federal court.
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WHAT ABOUT LUCY
@InAtl "But in the end, asking for a tax break to build more parking turns…