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State Regulations Preempted by Comprehensive Federal Regulatory Scheme
Description The Supreme Court held unanimously that the State of Washington could not add regulatory requirements to oil tankers operating in Washington waters. Congress imposed a comprehensive federal regulatory scheme for oil tankers that preempted state regulations.
Topic Constitutional Law
Key Words Federal Preemption; Regulation
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Congress passed the Ports and Waterways Safety Act of 1972 and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to impose extensive regulations, via the U.S. Coast Guard, on the operation of oil tankers. The State of Washington, concerned about oil tanker spills, imposed state regulations on oil tanker operations. Tanker operators sued the state, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from state regulations, claiming that state regulations were preempted by the federal rules. The district court and court of appeals held for the state; the tanker operators appealed.
Decision Reversed. Washington's regulations regarding tanker operation are preempted by the comprehensive federal regulatory scheme governing oil tankers. Congress has left no room for state regulation of these matters. While the state has a legitimate interest in this matter, Congress has imposed comprehensive rules covering all areas also addressed by the state, so the state cannot impose rules different from the federal rules. Congress clearly wished to have uniform rules governing tanker operations in all waters, so the states may not intervene.
Citation U.S. v. Locke, 120 S.Ct. 1135 (2000)

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