Preemption Doctrine

Preemption Doctrine in the United States

Principle that federal laws supersede or preempt state laws in certain policy areas. The preemption doctrine is grounded in the Supremacy Clause of Article VI, which provides that all laws made in pursuance of the U.S. Constitution “shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” The doctrine holds that federal law must preempt state law if the national policy considerations are sufficiently great. The national policy interest, of course, must be compatible with the legitimate exercise of federal power. As a general practice, the Supreme Court allows states to enact regulations in the policy field where the federal government has also acted. As long as the state law is supplementary to the federal law or does not interfere with the implementation of federal law, state law is generally left undisturbed. The preemption doctrine does allow, however, that even where no conflict between federal and state law exists, state law may be nullified if Congress wholly “occupies” the policy field.

See Also

Doctrine (Judicial Effects and Policies) Federalism (Judicial Effects and Policies).

Analysis and Relevance

The Supreme Court said in Pennsylvania v. Nelson (350 U.S. 497: 1956) that invoking the preemption doctrine requires the existence of at least one of three conditions. First, the federal regulation must be so pervasive as to allow reasonable inference that no room is left for state action. Congress may explicitly state such a preemptive interest, or the courts may interpret the intent of Congress to fully occupy a policy field. Second, federal regulation must involve matters where the federal interest is so dominant as to preclude implementation of state laws in the field. Third, the administration of federal laws must be endangered by potentially conflicting state laws. The policy area involved in Nelson was the regulation of seditious activity. Specifically, the question was whether the federal Smith Act prohibited enforcement of the Pennsylvania Sedition Act, which proscribed the same conduct. On the basis of the preemption doctrine and the criteria described, the Supreme Court concluded that Pennsylvania’s statute had to give way.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Preemption Doctrine from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Preemption Doctrine: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Preemption Doctrine. This part provides references, in relation to Preemption Doctrine, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Preemption Doctrine by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Preemption Doctrine and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Preemption Doctrine or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Preemption Doctrine and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Preemption Doctrine. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Preemption Doctrine should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Preemption Doctrine when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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