Supreme Court hears arguments on preemption
Supreme Court hears arguments on preemption
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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Wednesday in two cases on preemption. In National Meat Association v. Harris [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court considered where the federal regime of slaughterhouse regulation as established by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (“FMIA”) [text], as amended by the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act preempted a subsequent California law imposing additional and arguably contrary requirements. The petitioner argued that “there is no way … to say that California law can be interpreted in a way that will not tell a Federal slaughterhouse what to do and—and how to do it with respect to nonambulatory animals.” The Solicitor General, in support of the petitioner, took a slightly different position on whether state regulations regarding the formation of sales contracts would also be preempted: “the ban on buying is nothing, is nothing but doing in two steps what the State clearly can’t do in one step, which is tell slaughterhouses how they are to deal with an animal that is on their premises. At least they can’t—States can’t tell slaughterhouses how to do that when there is a Federal regulation on the subject. The respondent drew a line between the purpose of the federal regulation and the California statute:

The scope are [sic] the mandates of Federal law dealing with the method, quality, and marketing of turning animals into meat for human consumption. … None of the provisions are within the scope because California is not regulating animals that are going to be turned into meat. And the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the purpose of the act, the legislative history of the act show, that the scope of the act is concerned with animals that are going to become meat.

The court seemed skeptical that there was no overlap in purpose whatsoever.

In Kurns v. Railroad Friction Products Corp. (RFPC) [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court considered whether state court products liability claims relating to the death of an individual exposed to asbestos were preempted by the Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA) [49 USC § 20701]. The petitioner was exposed and subsequently passed away after working on the braking system of trains which contained asbestos. Petitioner urged the court to construe the Inspection Act narrowly (as applying to the safety of locomotives in use on railroad lines and not applying to hazards to mechanics conducting repairs) because

in 1970 Congress expressly and comprehensively legislated in the Federal Rail Safety Act and provided a conflict preemption regime in which if a State had a rule in place that rule would be permitted to survive unless and until the Federal Rail Administration issued a regulation. And there has never been a regulation on asbestos. … [W]hat [respondent is] seeking to do is to take the doctrine of implied field preemption, gain immunity from State law liability and not be subject to any Federal rules. And it’s that proposition that is an extraordinary proposition of implied field preemption.

The Solicitor General, supporting the petitioner, argued that LIA’s application is limited by its own language which purports to regulate locomotives for safe use—”safe for use on the line”—on lines of interstate commerce. The respondent relied on Napier which construes the LIA as delegating exclusive authority to the DOT to “determine the design and the materials of locomotive equipment”, even where a State may regulate for a different purpose, because the statute says safe for use on—”safe for use on the line.” It’s safe for use on lines of interstate commerce. In other words, “regulatory power is broader than purpose.”