Supremacy Clause Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Supremacy Clause, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Supremacy Clause?

(n) The clause contained in Article VI, section 2 of US constitution, which declare that the laws made in pursuance of the constitution under the authority of United states shall preside over others and shall be the supreme law of USA is known as Supremacy clause.

History and Meaning of Supremacy Clause

The Supremacy Clause is a fundamental principle of the United States Constitution, established in Article VI, Section 2. It provides that the federal Constitution overrides any state or local law that conflicts with federal law. This legal doctrine is based on the idea that it is necessary to establish a unified legal framework across the country, and that the federal government must have the power to create and enforce uniform laws in order to do so.

One of the earliest examples of the Supremacy Clause in action was the Supreme Court case of McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), in which the Court held that Maryland could not tax the Second Bank of the United States. The Court held that because the Bank was a federal instrumentality created under the Constitution, the state could not interfere with its function or existence.

Today, the Supremacy Clause serves as a crucial check on the power of the states. It ensures that the federal government can enforce its laws and regulations uniformly across the country, and that states cannot infringe upon federal authority.

Examples of Supremacy Clause

  1. In 1996, California passed the Compassionate Use Act, which legalized medical marijuana use within the state. However, because federal law prohibits the use or possession of marijuana, the Supremacy Clause prevents California from protecting individuals who use marijuana for medical purposes from federal prosecution.
  2. Following the September 11th attacks, many cities and states passed laws aimed at combating terrorism. However, because the federal government has the primary responsibility for protecting the nation against terrorism, courts have held that federal law preempts state law in this area under the Supremacy Clause.
  3. In recent debates over immigration and sanctuary cities, some state and local governments have passed laws that conflict with federal immigration laws. However, because the Supremacy Clause provides that federal law preempts state law in cases of conflict, these state and local laws can be challenged and invalidated by federal courts.

Legal Terms Similar to Supremacy Clause

  1. Preemption: This legal doctrine also involves the idea that federal law takes precedence over state law in cases of conflict. However, preemption is a broader concept that includes both the Supremacy Clause and other principles of federalism.
  2. Dual federalism: This theory holds that the federal and state governments each have separate and distinct spheres of authority and that they should not interfere with one another. The Supremacy Clause serves to reinforce the idea that the federal government has certain powers that cannot be encroached upon by the states.
  3. Federalism: This is the basic structure of government that divides power between the federal government and the states. The Supremacy Clause is a key element of federalism, as it establishes the primacy of federal law over state law in cases of conflict.