Citation. 505 U.S. 88, 112 S.Ct. 2374, 120 L.Ed.2d 73 (1992).
In 1988, the Illinois legislature enacted two worker’s safety statutes which required mandatory safety training. The National Solid Wastes Management Association alleged that the Illinois regulations were preempted by the the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH) and by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations..
Under the Supremacy Clause, a state law which interferes with or is contrary to a federal law must be preempted. Federal preemption of a state statute can be either express or implied. Absent express preemption, the Court has recognized two types of implied preemption: “field preemption,” where the federal regulatory scheme is so “pervasive” that there is no room left for States to supplement it, and “conflict preemption,” where it is impossible to comply with both federal and state regulations, or where state law conflicts with the overall purpose of the federal scheme.
In 1970, Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH) and established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA mandated certain worker’s safety training. Section 18(b) of OSH gave States the option to preempt the federal regulations. To do so, a State would have to submit its own plan for occupational safety to the Secretary of Labor. About half the States submitted plans to the Secretary and received approval for them. Illinois, however, did not submit a plan. Instead, the Illinois legislature enacted two worker’s safety statutes which also required mandatory safety training. The National Solid Wastes Management Association alleged that the Illinois regulations were preempted by the federal scheme.
(1) Whether the Occupational Safety and Health Act and OSHA standards preempted the Illinois statutes.
(2) Whether the Illinois statutes were “occupational safety and health standard[s]” subject to preemption by OSH.
JUSTICE O’CONNOR holding: (1) Yes, the state regulation conflicted with the overall purpose of OSH and was thus impliedly preempted. If Illinois wanted to validly enact its own worker’s safety scheme, it needed to go through the approval process outlined in the Act.
(2) Yes, even though the State argued that its statutes addressed more than just occupational health and safety, the Court must examine the “actual effect” of the state law. Otherwise, a State could nullify any unwanted federal regulation by alleging its statute was justified by an interest other than to frustrate the federal scheme. The Illinois statutes were directed at occupational safety, so they were preempted by OSH.
Justice Souter would have upheld the Illinois statutes. He reasoned that federal preemption of state laws should occur only when the congressional intent to preempt is clear. Here, OSH did not clearly demonstrate the intent to preempt state law. The Act provided a mechanism for States to preempt the federal scheme, and this provision did not say that States were prevented from enacting supplementary standards.
Justice Kennedy believed that the Illinois statutes were expressly preempted by Section 18 of OSH. Absent this express preemption, he would not have found that a supplementary state statute was impliedly preempted. In his view, implied preemption “should be limited to state laws which impose prohibitions or obligations which are in direct contradiction to Congress’ primary objectives.”
The O’Connor plurality rejected the State’s argument that the statutes merely supplemented the federal scheme. In deciding whether a state regulation should be preempted, “[t]he purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone.” Congress, by allowing States to adopt their own schemes through the approval process, demonstrated its intent “to subject employers and employees to only one set of regulations.” Thus, Illinois could either adopt OSH wholesale or submit a state plan to replace it entirely. Limiting States to either the federal scheme or a federally approved state scheme ensured that those seeking to comply with the regulation would not need to navigate “duplicative, and possibly counterproductive, regulation[s].” Moreover, just because Illinois also sought to promote occupational safety did not mean that its statutes were consistent with the federal scheme. The only method for a State to enact worker’s safety laws under OSH was to first receive federal approval. By avoiding this requirement, the Illinois statutes conflicted with (and were thus preempted by) the Act.