Brief Fact Summary. Illinois and Congress both had legislation that regulated safety and health for people working with hazardous waste material.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Preemption may be either expressed or implied. Express preemption exists when Congress either explicitly states in the statute’s language or preemption is implicitly contained in its structure and purpose. Implied preemption exists when there is field preemption (when the scheme of federal regulation is so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the states to supplement it) and conflict preemption where compliance with both federal and state regulations is physically impossible or where the state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.
Issue. Were the state licensing acts preempted by the OSH Act to the extent they established occupational safety and health standards for training those who worked with hazardous wastes?
Held. Justice O’Conner opinion. Yes.
Congress intended to subject employers and employees to only one set of regulations, be it federal or state, and the only way a state may regulate an OSHA-regulated occupational safety and health issue was pursuant to an approved state plan that displaces the federal standards. This is a case of conflict preemption because although the goal of both laws were the same, the state’s law stood in the way of the full implementation of the federal law.
Congress sought to promote occupational safety and healths while at the same time avoid duplicative and possibly counterproductive regulation.
Illinois contended that they wanted to only supplement and not supplant the federal regulation, however, Congress did not intend to let states supplement. The entire scheme was aimed to provide consistent uniform federal standards and encourage states to assume full responsibility for development and enforcement of their own plans if they so chose.
The OSH Act preempts all state law that constitutes in a direct clear and substantial way regulation of worker and health safety. However, even if the state articulated a purpose other than health and safety regulation it still cannot avoid OSH Act preemption. That such a law may have a non-occupational impact does not render it any less of an occupational standard for purposes of preemption analysis. The key question is at what point the state regulation sufficiently interferes with federal regulation.
Dissent. Justices Souter, Blackmun, Stevens and Thomas dissenting.
The language of the statute failed to demonstrate the intent to preempt state law.
The implication of Section 18(a) which states that the Act does not prevent any state agency or court from asserting jurisdiction under state law over any occupational safety or health issue with respect to which no federal standard is in effect, is that the provision rules out field preemption and is otherwise entirely compatible with the possibility that preemption will occur only when actual conflict between the regulations renders compliance with both impossible.
The implication of Section 18(b) is that if a state wishes to take on a certain amount of the federal mandate they must gain approval of a plan.
The dormant Commerce Clause could mitigate Section 18(c) concern for regulating interstate commerce.
Section 18(h) was intended to allow for the possibility of just one transition from pre-Act state law to the post-Act state laws. The court instead reads it as requiring the employers and employees be subject to first their state laws, then after promulgation of a federal standard to that standard, and then after approval of a state plan, to a new state regime.
Each provision of Section 18 could be read consistently with the others without any implication of preemptive intent. Those provisions are consistent with a purpose and objective to permit overlapping state and federal regulations as with one to guarantee employers and employees are subject to only one regulatory regime. There is no conflict preemption if there is compliance with both standards.
Concurrence. Justice Kennedy concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.
Justice Kennedy finds that OSH Act preemption is express rather than implied. He finds express pre-emption by relying on the negative “inference” of Section 18(b), which governs when state law will preempt federal law.
Past cases required a high threshold to be met if a state law is to be preempted for conflicting with the purposes of a federal Act.
Congress’ intent must be determined from the language, structure and purpose of the statute as a whole. The structure and language of Section 18’s other provisions leave little doubt that Congress intended to preempt supplementary state regulation as well.
Discussion. Congress could draft legislation so that their intent is crystal clear and the court does not have to embark on a balancing test. Federal regulation may present preemption problems in regards to whether or not state law regulates interstate commerce.
One example is in De Canas v. Bica 424 U.S. 351 (1976), which involved an alleged conflict between a California statute regulating employment of illegal aliens and the federal immigration laws. The Supreme Court of the United States has upheld a state law, forbidding employment of illegal aliens under the state’s police power, since it did not interfere with the exclusive federal power over aliens
Another example is if State X enacted a statute requiring firms who do business with and for the state to prohibit nonresident aliens from engaging in any state related business activities. In evaluating the constitutionality of this law under the Supremacy Clause the treaties and immigration laws of the United States would be most directly relevant. Since Congress is vested with the primary authority to regulate immigration and aliens, any state legislation, which affects aliens, is likely to be preemp