Can states override or ignore federal law?


The Second Amendment Preservation Act is one of the laws passed in Missouri during the last legislature. Governor Parson signed the Frontier Justice gun deal bill at Lee’s Summit. The ink on the governor’s signature barely dried when a lawsuit from the city and county of Saint Louis challenged the law’s constitutionality.

The lawsuit filed in the Cole County Circuit Court against Attorney General Eric Schmidt stated in the introduction: “A recently enacted Missouri Act, formerly known as HB 85 and HB 310 (collectively,“ HB 85 ”) was used as a latest move adopted in ongoing efforts to repeal federal gun laws. However, HB 85 is unconstitutional under the constitutions of the United States and Missouris. ”The lawsuit goes on to say that it is not intended to violate anyone’s right to bear arms. The lawsuit also states that the legislation is a “radical, dangerous and obviously unconstitutional attempt to declare that Missouri will refuse to obey federal gun laws.”

The main objection to the legislation is based on the supremacy clause found in Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, which “makes the constitution, laws, and treaties of the federal government the supreme right of the country, the” judge in each state are bound independently of any contrary state laws. “

Tensions between the state and the federal government have been constant throughout American history. The question of how power should be divided between the federal and state governments has been debated for over two centuries. At the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787, the debate began between the federalists and the anti-federalists.

The first case before the Supreme Court was the landmark McCulloch v Maryland case, settled in 1819. In this case, the court considered the authority of Congress to establish the Second Bank of the United States. The state of Maryland passed law to impose taxes on the bank, and the court ruled that Congress had power to set up the bank and the state had no power to tax it. Opponents of the law argued that the constitution does not specifically mention the authority to set up the National Bank.

Chief Justice John Marshall made the statement, stating that Congress had powers not expressly listed in the United States Constitution under the “Necessary and Fair Clause” (Art. I, Section 8). Marshall redefined “necessary” as “appropriate and legitimate,” under the necessary and proper clause (Art. I, Section 8), Chief Justice Marshall stated that Congress has powers not expressly set out in the US Constitution . The supremacy clause also supported the decision.

Missouri has also been involved in a Supremacy Clause case in the Supreme Court. In 1920 the state argued that the Constitution did not give Congress any enumerated authority to regulate migratory bird hunting, and therefore regulation of that hunt was the power of the state. The state attempted to prevent a federal gamekeeper from enforcing the provisions of the federal law on the Migratory Bird Treaty. The state of Missouri lost the case.

Recently, in 2000, the Supreme Court invalidated a Massachusetts law banning the Massachusetts company from doing business in Burma. In a 2009 case, the Supreme Court ruled that a New York law preventing state trials from hearing compensation claims against prison workers, whether federal or state, violated the supremacy clause.

In the legal arena, there has been a similar battle over the preemption doctrine that emerged from the Supremacy Clause and was used to invalidate state laws and dismiss civil claims. In some cases where the federal government has explicitly stated in the legislation that federal law preempts state law, the law is clear, but in other cases where there is a conflict between federal and state law, the courts will examine whether the federal government will the law has taken over whether the state law contradicts the federal law and whether the state law would thwart the intention of the federal law. Civil lawsuits against manufacturers of medical devices and drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration are based on the preemption doctrine.

Many proponents of Missouri’s recent guns legislation would rely on the Tenth Amendment, which says: “Powers not delegated or prohibited by the constitution to the United States are reserved for the states or the people. Such attorneys are known as “state rights” attorneys and argue that the federal government has nothing to do with regulating local affairs.

The civil war was fought over whether states should have the right to protect the institution of slavery. The secession of the southern states led to civil war. After the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment introduced important restrictions on the rights of states to regulate the lives of individuals within its jurisdiction: “No state may make or enforce any law that restricts the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; nor may a state deprive a person of life, liberty, or property without due process; deny the same protection of the law to another person in their area of ​​responsibility. “

There has even been talk of quitting the union recently in the southern states, although it is very doubtful that it will happen. However, the debate continues 160 years later.

The case pending last month in Cole County will ultimately be decided by the federal courts and possibly the United States Supreme Court. Whatever the decision of the court, the intense debate on the rights of states will continue.

Bob Buckley is a lawyer in Independence. Email him at