Supremacy Clause | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction

The term supremacy clause is used to denote Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.  It has been interpreted to mean that when a federal law and a state law come into conflict, the federal law trumps state law.  That is, in a contest between state and federal law, the federal law always wins.

Article Six States:

All debts contracted and engagements entered into, before the adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

The Supremacy Clause is a cornerstone of the United States Constitution and reflects the principle of federalism, which assigns certain powers to the federal government and reserves others to the states. The Supremacy Clause is found in Article VI of the Constitution and states that the Constitution, federal laws, and treaties shall be the supreme law of the land and that judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.

This clause establishes the primacy of federal law in the United States legal system and represents a key check on state power. The Supremacy Clause has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to mean that in situations where federal law and state law conflict, federal law must be given precedence. This is due to the fact that the Constitution grants certain enumerated powers to the federal government and reserves other powers to the states or to the people.

The Supremacy Clause has been used to resolve many important legal disputes, such as those arising from conflicts between state and federal environmental regulations or those arising from clashes between state and federal marijuana laws. In some cases, the Supreme Court has struck down state laws as unconstitutional because they conflict with federal law, while in others, it has upheld state laws as constitutional because they do not conflict with federal law.

One important example of the Supremacy Clause in action is the doctrine of preemption, which holds that federal law can preempt state law in certain circumstances. Under this doctrine, if Congress passes a law that regulates a particular area of the law, such as the Clean Air Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act, and if that law conflicts with a state law on the same subject, the federal law will preempt the state law. This means that the state law will be invalid to the extent that it conflicts with federal law.


On This Site

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 04/06/2023


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.