Constitutionality of Repealing the Employee Protection Provisions of the Regional Rail Reorganization Act

Headnotes: 

Congress may modify or repeal altogether the income protection program enacted by Title V of the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973, under which the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) was given responsibility for paying employee benefits under existing collective bargaining agreements between its five component railroads and their unions. Such action would not result in any constitutionally compensable “taking” from railroad employees, or impair any private contract rights in violation of the Due Process Clause.

Railroad employees have no present vested interest in the benefits specified in Title V whose abrogation or modification would be restricted by the Fifth Amendment, since by their nature those benefits are entirely prospective.

Congress may interfere with vested property rights, or impair a contract between two private parties, as long as the results are not harsh and oppressive, in light of the governmental interests served by the legislation. Moreover, a legislative measure interfering with contract rights is more likely to be held constitutional if it is one of a long series of actions regulating the business in question.

One Congress cannot legislate so as to divest itself or subsequent Congresses of the right and responsibility to exercise the full legislative authority to enact laws for the common good.

Updated July 9, 2014