Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


Last month Gov. Inslee signed new, updated version of law

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today the Washington Attorney General’s Office stood up for Hanford workers at the United States Supreme Court. The Office is defending Washington’s bipartisan state law designed to make it easier for workers to access the compensation benefits they earned when they develop certain illnesses from working at a site contaminated with radioactive waste.

The 2018 law that the federal government challenged was updated and enhanced this year. During the just-completed 2022 session, the Legislature passed SB 5890, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, which makes important clarifications and enhancements to the old 2018 law. Those enhancements, such as ensuring the protections apply to all individuals, including state employees, who conduct work on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, address key concerns voiced by the federal government. SB 5890 received strong bipartisan support. Gov. Jay Inslee signed SB 5890 into law on March 11, and it took effect immediately. Consequently, the new law is currently in effect.

The Biden administration has not challenged the new law.

Washington Deputy Solicitor General Tera Heintz delivered oral arguments before the Supreme Court.

“I’m proud of my legal team for their efforts today,” Ferguson said. “To be blunt, if the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was located outside Washington, D.C., the federal government would not be continuing this cruel legal challenge. As long as I am Attorney General, my office will defend Hanford workers’ ability to access the benefits they earned.”

Trump administration challenged the protections in federal court — and lost twice

In December 2018, the Trump administration filed a lawsuit challenging the law.  The federal government argued that the law violates “intergovernmental immunity,” a legal doctrine that prevents states from regulating federal operations or property. However, in 1936 — more than eight decades ago — Congress gave states broad authority to apply their workers’ compensation laws to federal projects.

In June 2019, Judge Stanley A. Bastian for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington granted Washington’s motion for summary judgment. In that order, Judge Bastian ruled that Congress authorized Washington to pass laws providing special protections for Hanford workers and therefore it did not violate intergovernmental immunity.

The Trump administration appealed, and in August 2020, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the law. A panel of three judges, Richard Clifton, James Donato and Milan Smith, unanimously struck down the Trump administration’s claims that the 2018 law is unlawful. The panel ruled that Congress has given authority to the states to provide workers’ compensation benefits to injured contractors on federal lands. Judge Milan Smith, appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote the opinion for the panel.

Just two days after Labor Day in September of 2021, the Biden Administration appealed the Ninth Circuit’s unanimous decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A week later, Ferguson joined Hanford workers and advocates in Pasco to call on the Biden administration to stop its challenge, to no avail.


Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Media Contact:

Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov

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