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Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Univ. School of Law

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Federal Preemption: Law, Politics, and Preemption

Here are the details of this AEI event.  Registration is closed, but there will be a webcast.

Once-esoteric questions involving the federal preemption of state law (especially state tort law and consumer protection statutes) have become the subject of a contentious public debate. Consumer advocates, plaintiffs' attorneys, and state officials argue that broad federal preemption claims--often by federal regulatory agencies and without a clear Congressional mandate--interfere with the states' historic role in protecting citizens against corporate misconduct. Corporations and federal agencies respond that preemption is often the only viable safeguard against unwarranted state interferences with the national economy. Aggressive trial lawyers and attorneys general, they say, upset carefully crafted regulatory compromises at the federal level. Preemption disputes along these lines have become a focal point of political debate and judicial decisions in a wide range of regulatory arenas, including financial regulation, automobile safety, clean-air laws, the regulation of telecommunications, energy, and other network industries, securities law, consumer products standards, pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides, outboard motors, and mattresses.

In all these areas, billions of dollars hang on regulatory nuances and arcane points of legal interpretation. But the preemption debate is being waged in the context of broader, sometimes constitutional, arguments and presumptions concerning the role and utility of federalism and “states' rights” in a modern, highly mobile, and integrated economy. Legal scholars are sharply divided both over the substance of those arguments and the extent to which they should dominate economic considerations or statutory language in what is, after all, a large universe of highly particular, industry- or area-specific preemption arrangements. Most scholars agree, however, that preemption law--especially the federal courts' muddled doctrine in this field--merits a serious re-examination.

AEI's two-day conference, organized by Richard A. Epstein of the University of Chicago Law School and Michael S. Greve, the John G. Searle Scholar at AEI, will provide a forum for such re-examination. Leading legal scholars and practicing attorneys will discuss in panels various facets of preemption law, including its constitutional backdrop; its trajectory over the past two centuries; its present contours and economic implications in such areas as network industries, environmental law, financial and securities regulation, and pharmaceuticals; and its prospects in light of recent developments in Congress, regulatory agencies, the states, and the courts.

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