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Preempting Preemption

Last week, the President issued a memo for the executive department on preemption. In a nutshell, preemption refers to the supremacy of a federal law where it conflicts with or is inconsistent with state law. In the context of drug and device cases, this has been something of a hot topic lately, with the legislature and courts wrestling with the question of whether particular federal laws preempt the ability of the states to permit certain product liability suits.

The memorandum shows that the executive branch is taking a traditional approach— “preemption of State law by executive departments and agencies should be undertaken only with full consideration of the legitimate prerogatives of the States and with a sufficient legal basis for preemption.” The directive to executive agencies and departments is clear—they should not make statements about preemption, even in regulatory preambles, unless the underlying regulation addresses preemption. Furthermore, they are asked to review the past 10 years of regulations to determine whether existing statements about preemption are accurate.

This is a phenomenal memo. Preemption has lately been the scourge of victims and injured consumers (see Riegel), but we are making good ground to provide avenues of relief for people who have been hurt by others (see also Wyeth v. Levine).