Against Preemption: How Federalism Can Improve the National Legislative Process
Roderick M. Hills, Jr.
New York University School of Law
May 28, 2003
U of Michigan Law, Public Law Working Paper No. 27; Michigan Law and Economics Research Paper No. 03-007
How easily should courts infer that federal statutes preempt state law? An ongoing debate exists on the question in Congress and among scholars and judges. One side calls for judges to protect federalism by adopting a rule of statutory construction that would bar preemption absent a clear statement of preemptive intent. Opponents argue against such a "clear statement" rule by arguing that state control over preemptable topics is often presumptively inefficient, because common-law juries lack expertise and because states are prone to imposing external costs on their neighbors.
This article sidesteps these debates over preemption and instead argues that, quite apart from whether state law is itself efficient, an anti-preemption rule of statutory construction has benefits for the national law-making process. Because of the size and heterogeneity of the population that it governs, Congress has institutional tendencies to avoid politically sensitive issues, deferring them to bureaucratic resolution, and instead concentrating on constituency service. Non-federal politicians can disrupt this tendency to ignore or suppress political controversy, by enacting state laws that regulate business interests, thus provoking those interests to seek federal legislation that will preempt the state legislation. In effect, state politicians place issues on Congress' agenda by enacting state legislation. Because business groups tend to have more consistent incentives to seek preemption than anti-preemption interests have to oppose preemption, controversial regulatory issues are more likely to end up on Congress' agenda if business groups bear the burden of seeking preemption. Moreover, the interests opposing preemption tend to use publicity rather than internal congressional procedures to promote their ends. Therefore, by adopting an anti-preemption rule of construction, the courts would tend to promote a more highly visible, vigorous style of public debate in Congress.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 38
Keywords: Federalism, Preemption, Congress, Interest Groups, Legislationworking papers series
Date posted: May 30, 2003
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