Wednesday, October 24, 2007, 6:16 PM

Fourth Circuit: Appropriations Acts May Effectuate Implied Repeals Of Substantive Legislation

In an interesting decision today written by Judge Wilkinson, Last Best Beef LLC v. Dudas, the Fourth Circuit reversed a district court's holding that a congressional appropriations act couldn't effect an implied repeal or suspension of existing legislation.

In this case the existing legislation is the Lanham Act, which states that "[n]o trademark ... shall be refused registration on the principal register on account of its nature." A rider in a 2006 appropriations act, however, prohibited the use of federal funds to register any trademark of the phrase "The Last Best Place." The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) complied with the rider and refused to register the trademark at the request of a business organization (whom the rider apparently was designed to frustrate). The district court held that the appropriations act couldn't permissibly effectuate an implied repeal of substantive legislation (and therefore the USPTO was required by the Lanham Act to register the trademark).

The Fourth Circuit rejected that categorical rule, and held that when a later appropriations act irreconcilably conflicts with a preexisting substantive law, the appropriations act controls. Judge Wilkinson's opinion concluded,"Where, as here, reconciliation [between the two congressional acts] is not possible, courts have no choice but to give effect to the later enactment. To adopt [the district court's] position would be to construct artificial obstacles to the efforts of current democratic majorities to enact their views into law."

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