The Gravitational Force of Federal Law

51 Pages Posted: 17 Feb 2015 Last revised: 18 Mar 2016

Date Written: 2016


In the American system of dual sovereignty, states have primary authority over matters of state law. In nonpreemptive areas in which state and federal regimes are parallel — such as matters of court procedure, certain statutory law, and even some constitutional law — states have full authority to legislate and interpret state law in ways that diverge from analogous federal law. But, in large measure, they don’t. It is as if federal law exerts a gravitational force that draws states to mimic federal law even when federal law does not require state conformity. This paper is the first to explore the widespread phenomenon of federal law’s gravitational pull. The paper begins by identifying the existence of a gravitational force throughout a range of procedural and substantive law felt by a host of state actors, including state rulemakers, legislators, judges, and even people themselves. It then excavates some explanatory vectors to help understand and appreciate why federal law exerts a gravitational force. Finally, the paper considers some normative concerns with state acquiescence to the federal gravitational pull.

Keywords: gravity, gravitational, federalism, following, federal rules, bowers, marriage, title vii,

Suggested Citation

Dodson, Scott, The Gravitational Force of Federal Law (2016). 164 University of Pennsylvania Law Review 703 (2016), UC Hastings Research Paper No. 134, Available at SSRN:

Scott Dodson (Contact Author)

UC Law, San Francisco ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States
415-581-8959 (Phone)


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