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Federal law is created at the national level, and applies to the entire nation (all 50 states and the District of Columbia), and U.S. territories.
The U.S. Constitution forms the basis for federal law; it establishes government power and responsibility, as well as preservation of the basic rights of every citizen.
State law is the law of each separate U.S. state and is applicable in that specific state.
The state law applies to residents and visitors of the state, and also to business entities, corporations, or any organizations based or operating in that state.
Federal law – Is the body of law created by the federal government of a country.
State law – Is the law of each separate U.S. state, as passed by the state legislature and adjudicated by state courts. It exists in parallel, and sometimes in conflict with, United States federal law.
Federal law – Created by the U.S. Congress. Both houses of Congress must pass a bill and it must be signed by the President before it becomes law.
State law – Is enacted by the state legislature and put into effect when signed by the governor.
Federal law – US Constitution provides for a federal government superior to state governments in regard to enumerated powers.
State law – No state law can abolish or reduce the rights afforded by the US Constitution.
Presumption in Conflict
Federal law – Trumps any state law in explicit conflict.
State law – Subservient to federal law in case of explicit conflict.
Federal supremacy and preemption refers to the idea that all state and local laws must not conflict with federal law.
The federal law is considered the supreme law and it always supersedes the state or local law.
The starting point for any discussion of the relationship between the U.S. and state constitutions is the Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the federal constitution, which says, “
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”
As stated in “State Constitutional Law: The Modern Experience”, this clause
“makes clear—in explicit terms—that federal law has primacy over state law, including state constitutions, when there is a conflict between any federal law (constitutional, statutory, or even regulatory) and state law.”
When Congress passes a law within its constitutional authority, the state law must defer.
State constitutions are subordinate to federal statutes and treaties. This constitutional requirement is called preemption.
Supremacy Clause – Constitutional Law of the United States
The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2) establishes that the Constitution, federal laws made pursuant to it, and treaties made under its authority, constitute the supreme law of the land.
It provides that state courts are bound by the supreme law; in case of conflict between federal and state law, the federal law must be applied.
Even state constitutions are subordinate to federal law.
In essence, it is a conflict-of-laws rule specifying that certain federal acts take priority over any state acts that conflict with federal law.
In this respect, the Supremacy Clause follows the lead of Article XIII of the Articles of Confederation, which provided that “Every State shall abide by the determination of the United States in Congress Assembled, on all questions which by this confederation are submitted to them.”
A constitutional provision announcing the supremacy of federal law, the Supremacy Clause assumes the underlying priority of federal authority, at least when that authority is expressed in the Constitution itself.
No matter what the federal government or the states might wish to do, they have to stay within the boundaries of the Constitution.
This makes the Supremacy Clause the cornerstone of the whole American political structure.
The actual words is as follows:
“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”
Examples and Other Clauses
The Constitution (including its Amendments) is made up of hundreds of clauses.
Some of the clauses are more important than others or have been hotly debated as to their scope, meaning, or effect.
These clauses are given names by which they may be referred.
You can see these clauses, including an explanation of each, as well as examples of the Supremacy Clause in action with State vs Federal Controversies at American Digital Network.
Just click the orange button below (opens in a new window).