Supreme Court

Gorsuch, Thomas, and Kavanaugh Clash With Roberts and Alito Over Federal Preemption of State Regulation

Understanding today’s Supreme Court decision in Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren

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In 2011, a lawyer working for the left-wing Constitutional Accountability Center praised Justice Clarence Thomas as a "surprising ally for progressives" because Thomas favored a strict state law over a more lenient federal rule in an economic regulatory case. Today, in another state regulatory case, Thomas got some company in his role as a progressive "ally" from Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The case is Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren. At issue is a Virginia law that prohibits all uranium mining within the confines of the state. The mining company Virginia Uranium objected, arguing in a federal lawsuit that the state may not ban the practice because such decisions are preempted by the federal Atomic Energy Act, which leaves such matters in the hands of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In other words, according to the company, the federal statute should trump the more exacting state regulation.

Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justices Thomas and Kavanaugh, thought otherwise. "Congress conspicuously chose to leave untouched the States' historic authority over the regulation of mining activities on private lands within their borders," Gorsuch wrote. "Nor do we see anything to suggest that the enforcement of Virginia's law would frustrate the [Atomic Energy Act's] purposes and objectives…. In this, as in any field of statutory interpretation, it is our duty to respect not only what Congress wrote but, as importantly, what it didn't write."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, agreed with Gorsuch that the state law should survive. But, in a separate concurring opinion, they maintained that the outcome should have been reached by a different route.

Meanwhile, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito, insisted that Gorsuch, Thomas, and Kavanaugh got it wrong on all counts. In Roberts' view, the terms of the Atomic Energy Act are broad enough to preempt the state law at issue here.

This is not the first time that Roberts and Alito have disagreed with Thomas in a case dealing with what we might call regulatory federalism. In Wyeth v. Levine (2009), for example, Thomas concurred with Justice John Paul Stevens' opinion that federal law did not preempt a state failure-to-warn lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company, even though the drug warning label at issue in that dispute had been approved by the Federal Drug Administration. The three dissenters in Wyeth were Roberts, Alito, and Justice Antonin Scalia.

Commentators often refer to the U.S. Supreme Court in terms of its liberal and conservative blocs. Today's divided ruling in Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren is a reminder that such labels can sometimes obscure more than they reveal.

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  1. How does this relate to the California dredging cases? Lats I heard, some US court said California could *regulate* dredging in navigable rivers but not ban it altogether. but California basically thumbed its nose at the decision and kept its ban.

  2. John Roberts is such a disappointment to me.

    1. Try lower expectations. It makes for a lot less disappointment and pain.

    2. Your disappointment is subject to a penaltax.

    3. IMHO, Obama’s administration spied on Roberts, found some dirt on him, and blackmailed in him into voting to uphold Obamacare, and whatever else they want to blackmail him on. After all, we know Obama spied on Trump’s campaign, and also hacked into the Senate’s computers. Why wouldn’t they also hack into the SCOTUS?

      1. BEST SATIRE OF THE MONTH!

  3. “Congress conspicuously chose to leave untouched the States’ historic authority over the regulation of mining activities on private lands within their borders,” Gorsuch wrote.

    When? And how?
    I happen to agree on this one. We have yet to see if the newer conservatives on the Court adopt the authoritarian notion that states have UNdelegated powers. “Conspicuously” raises a red alert on that.

    One thing the Founders did do, conspicuously, is limit the tenth amendment. With the ninth.

  4. It was funny to see the Lefty media do quick pieces on the SCOTUS release of opinions.

    The Lefties have no idea what is coming.

    1. The SCOTUS ruled against state power trying to force people to bake cakes. Its remanded back to the lower court because the state is still fucking up.

    2. Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren gives more power to states, unless the Constitution gives the federal government a specific power AND the federal government acts on that power. No longer are state laws simply preempted because the US Constitution enumerates a power to the federal government.

    3. Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill covers gerrymandering of Virginia’s congressional districts. This a great setup to upcoming 2020 Census where states will have more power to set new Congressional districts in Red state after Blue state give up seats. The Blue states will bitch and complain but the Republican Legislatures in Red states now have more leeway to redistrict and further hurt Democrat chances to stay in power.

  5. In Roberts’ view, the terms of the Atomic Energy Act are broad enough to preempt the state law at issue here.

    What a surprise – Roberts thinks the courts should defer to the executive branch agencies as to the extent of their powers.

    1. That’s not what it says, even remotely.

    2. Wrong. Congress can not simply pass a law to seize a State power and make it Federal. Since the constitution doesn’t give the Feds any regulatory authority over mining, then they don’t have the power to just pass a law saying they have that authority; the constitution would need to be amended.

      1. Non-responsive, Deflection. To call me wrong you must defend what he said. Try again?

        Plus

        Gorsuch
        “Congress conspicuously chose to leave untouched the States’ historic authority over the regulation of mining activities on private lands within their borders,”

        They “conspicuously” did the opposite

        Where the Act defined the responsibilities of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

        g. acquire, purchase, lease, and hold real and personal property, including patents, as agent of and on behalf of the United States,

        That’s not my point here. These new judges scare me.

        1. 1. No one called you wrong. Can you not understand threading?

          2. No, to call you wrong does not require defending what he said. You *and* he can both be wrong. Logical fallacies, how the fuck do they work.

          1. No. He does not understand threading. This has been demonstrated repeatedly.

            1. mpercy
              No. He does not understand threading. This has been demonstrated repeatedly.

              (Nolanlib has a heart attack … and is rushed to the hospital … from laughing too hard)

          2. No on e called you wrong. Can you not understand threading?

            So (lol) he says DenverJ wrong, on what Roberts said …. and supported it by saying what the Constitution says!!

            Then you go off the rails entirely!

            2. No, to call you wrong does not require defending what he said.

            (pees pants laughing)
            If Jerryskids is not wrong … then YOU say he’s not right either!!!!
            What else is there?
            Then … crazier!!

            You *and* he can both be wrong.

            NOW he’s BOTH right and wrong … after saying he’s NEITHER right or wrong.

            Logical fallacies, how the fuck do they work

            (Laughing harder!!)
            You’re right. I should have known that John Roberts IS the Constitution

            And mpercy AGREES

            1. You just can’t keep the crazy bottled up, can you Hihn? It wants to come out and plaaaay.

              1. Lose on the issue. Shoot the messenger. The Authoritarian Right.

                1. Funny, you calling me of all people Authoritarian Right, but whatever. Anyway, I wish you’d learn that people switch to mocking you once the bold-face, pants peeing and ass-rape threats come out.

                  Stick to a reasoned discussion (I know you can do it, I’ve seen it in your now-deleted-because-you-were-banned posts) and leave the bold type for your ransom demand notes.

                  1. (my attitude and boldface is response to TWO unprovoked assaults …. purely personal attacks … by an self-evidently self-righteous denizen of the Authoritarian Right

                    Funny, you calling me of all people Authoritarian Right

                    OMFG … as you’re attacking me AGAIN!
                    THEN YOU TELL ME TO STICK TO A REASONED DISCUSSION!!

                    Authoritarians also suffer self-righteous denial
                    So, yeah, I’m now peeing my pants laughing at you.
                    Who wouldn’t?

                    If I was banned, WHY AM I STILL HERE? … after being here less than a week???

                    Screech some more. If it makes you feel manly, I’ll allow you the last “word,” punk.

                  2. HE’S EVEN PROUD TO BE A JERK!!! (SNEER)

                    1. Despite your offer, you tried to get the last word in anyway. Whatever.

                      You defend government gun grabbing and you defended the government’s prosecution of Dmitry Skylarov; you’re not one to call others Authoritarian. And as for screeching, try reading your own comments sometime.

                      My last word: I agree with you regarding the new SC judges, but until you learn to stop flinging feces everywhere, noone here — including me — is going to bother with rational discourse where you’re concerned.

  6. […] SCOTUS also issued a decision in Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren, a case that saw Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh aligning with the court’s more progressive wing. Reason‘s Damon Root has more details. […]

  7. […] SCOTUS also issued a decision in Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren, a case that saw Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh aligning with the court’s more progressive wing. Reason‘s Damon Root has more details. […]

  8. […] at the decision in a post on the Council of State Governments’ Knowledge Center blog. At Reason, Damon Root observes that although “[c]ommentators often refer to the U.S. Supreme Court in terms […]

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