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Federal preemption refers to the invalidation of US state law when it conflicts with Federal law.

Contents

Constitutional basis

According to the Supremacy Clause (Article VI, section 2) of the United States Constitution,

The Laws of the United States ... shall be the supreme Law of the Land; ... any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding.

As the Supreme Court stated in Altria Group v. Good, 555 U.S. ___ (2008), a federal law that conflicts with a state law will trump, or "preempt", that state law:

Consistent with that command, we have long recognized that state laws that conflict with federal law are “without effect.” Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U. S. 725, 746 (1981)
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Intent of Congress presumed to be deference to states

In Altria v. Good, the Court wrote:

When the text of a pre-emption clause is susceptible of more than one plausible reading, courts ordinarily “accept the reading that disfavors pre-emption.” Bates v. Dow Agrosciences LLC, 544 U. S. 431, 449 (2005).

In Wyeth v. Levine (2009), the Court emphasized what it called the "two cornerstones" of pre-emption jurisprudence:

First, “the purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone in every pre-emption case.” Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, 518 U. S. 470, 485 (1996) (internal quotation marks omitted); see Retail Clerks v. Schermerhorn, 375 U. S. 96, 103 (1963). [Medtronic: "[O]ur analysis of the scope of the statute's pre-emption is guided by our oft-repeated comment, initially made in Retail Clerks v. Schermerhorn , 375 U.S. 96, 103, ... (1963), that "the purpose of Congress is the ultimate touch-stone" in every pre-emption case."] Second, “[i]n all pre-emption cases, and particularly in those in which Congress has ‘legislated … in a field which the States have traditionally occupied,’ … we ‘start with the assumption that the historic police powers of the States were not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress.’ ” Lohr, 518 U. S., at 485 (quoting Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U. S. 218, 230 (1947) ).

See also Reilly, 533 U. S., at 541–542 (citation omitted):

Because ‘federal law is said to bar state action in [a] fiel[d] of traditional state regulation,’ namely, advertising, we ‘wor[k] on the assumption that the historic police powers of the States [a]re not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that [is] the clear and manifest purpose of Congress’

Evidence of Congressional intent to preempt

In Altria v. Good, the Court reiterates that "Congress may indicate pre-emptive intent" in two ways: "through a statute’s express language or through its structure and purpose. See Jones v. Rath Packing Co., 430 U. S. 519, 525 (1977)".

Express Preemption

Express preemption occurs only when a federal statute explicitly confirms Congress's intention to preempt state law. English v. General Elec. Co., 496 U.S. 72, 78-79 (1990). "If a federal law contains an express pre-emption clause, it does not immediately end the inquiry because the question of the substance and scope of Congress’ displacement of state law still remains." Altria v. Good

Implied Preemption

Implied preemption can occur in two ways: field preemption or conflict preemption. Massachusetts Ass'n of HMOs v. Ruthardt, 194 F.3d 176, 179 (1st Cir. 1999).

1. Conflict preemption

Under the Supremacy Clause, any state law that conflicts with a federal law is preempted. Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (1824). Conflict arises when it is impossible to comply with both the state and federal regulations, or when the state law interposes an obstacle to the achievement of Congress's discernible objectives. Gade v. National Solid Wastes Mgmt. Ass'n, 505 U.S. 88, 98 (1992).

Actual conflict. A conflict exists if a party cannot comply with both state law and federal law (for example, if state law forbids something that federal law requires). Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul, 373 U.S. 132, 142-43 (1963).
Obstacle. In addition, even in the absence of a direct conflict between state and federal law, a conflict exists if the state law is an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.Crosby v. Nat’l Foreign Trade Council, 530 U.S. 363, 372-73 (2000).
2. Field preemption

Even without a conflict between federal and state law or an express provision for preemption, the courts will infer an intention to preempt state law if the federal regulatory scheme is so pervasive as to “occupy the field” in that area of the law, i.e. to warrant an inference that Congress did not intend the states to supplement it. Gade v. National Solid Wastes Mgmt. Ass'n, 505 U.S. 88, 98 (1992). See also Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp.. For example, the courts have held that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) preempts state laws directed at conduct actually or arguably prohibited or protected by the NLRA or conduct Congress intended to leave unregulated. San Diego Bldg. Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 244 (1959); Machinists v. Wisconsin Emp. Rel. Commission, 427 U.S. 132, 140-48 (1976).

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