Barnes v. Gorman, 536 U.S. 181, 6 (2002)

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Opinion of the Court

the grant of federal funds. See Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Ed., 526 U. S. 629, 640 (1999) (Title IX). We have repeatedly characterized this statute and other Spending Clause legislation as "much in the nature of a contract: in return for federal funds, the [recipients] agree to comply with federally imposed conditions." Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 451 U. S. 1, 17 (1981) (emphasis added); 1 see also Davis, supra, at 640; Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School Dist., 524 U. S. 274, 286 (1998); Guardians Assn. v. Civil Serv. Comm'n of New York City, 463 U. S. 582, 599 (1983) (opinion of White, J.); id., at 632-633 (Marshall, J., dissenting); Lau v. Nichols, 414 U. S. 563, 568- 569 (1974). Just as a valid contract requires offer and acceptance of its terms, "[t]he legitimacy of Congress' power to legislate under the spending power . . . rests on whether the [recipient] voluntarily and knowingly accepts the terms of the 'contract.' . . . Accordingly, if Congress intends to impose a condition on the grant of federal moneys, it must do so unambiguously." Pennhurst, supra, at 17; see also Davis, supra, at 640; Gebser, supra, at 287; Franklin, 503 U. S., at 74. Although we have been careful not to imply that all contract-law rules apply to Spending Clause legislation, see, e. g., Bennett v. Kentucky Dept. of Ed., 470 U. S. 656, 669 (1985) (Title I), we have regularly applied the contract-law analogy in cases defining the scope of conduct for which funding recipients may be held liable for money damages. Thus,

1 Justice Stevens believes that our reliance on Pennhurst is "inappropriate" because that case addressed legislation imposing affirmative obligations on recipients whereas Title VI "simply prohibit[s] certain discriminatory conduct." Post, at 192 (opinion concurring in judgment). He does not explain why he thinks this distinction—which played no role in the Court's application of contract-law principles in Pennhurst, 451 U. S., at 24-25—ought to make a difference. Whatever his reason, we have regularly applied Pennhurst's contract analogy to legislation that "simply prohibit[s] certain discriminatory conduct." See, e. g., Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Ed., 526 U. S. 629, 640 (1999) (Title IX); Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School Dist., 524 U. S. 274, 287 (1998) (same).

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