Dynamic Incorporation of Federal Law

49 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2015 Last revised: 5 Jul 2016

See all articles by Jim Rossi

Jim Rossi

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: December 19, 2015


This Article provides a comprehensive analysis of state constitutional limits on legislative incorporation of dynamic federal law, as occurs when a state legislature incorporates future federal tax, environmental or health laws. Many state judicial decisions draw on the nondelegation doctrine to endorse an ex ante prohibition on state legislative incorporation of dynamic federal law. However, the analysis in this Article shows how bedrock principles related to separation of powers under state constitutions, such as protecting transparency, reinforcing accountability, and protecting against arbitrariness in lawmaking, are not consistent with this approach. Instead, this Article highlights two practices that can make dynamic incorporation of federal law more compatible with state separation of powers: a) accountable intermediaries, such as administrative agencies, as a was of preserving political accountability with incorporation of dynamic federal sources of law; and b) ex post judicial review, as a mechanism to provide standards and safeguards to protect against arbitrariness in lawmaking. The analysis highlights serious flaws with judicial interpretations of state constitutions that impose an ex ante barrier to the adoption of dynamic federal law. It also advances “hard look federalism” as a novel approach to judicial review by state appellate courts that can allow states to both protect their own separation of powers concerns and improve the operation of federalism, particular by enhancing state participation in adoption, interpretation, and implementation of federal standards.

Keywords: Separation of Powers, Federalism, Administrative Law, State Constitutions, Judicial Review

Suggested Citation

Rossi, Jim, Dynamic Incorporation of Federal Law (December 19, 2015). Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 77, 2016, Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 16-2, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2705858

Jim Rossi (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Ave S
Nashville, TN 37203-5724
United States
6153436620 (Phone)

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