Legal in a state, illegal federally

In this thread about the forthcoming ballot in California to legalize marijuana, it was stated that even if California legalizes pot, it would still be illegal to possess it under Federal law. In such an instance, where a state’s laws are at odds with those of the Federal system, what happens? Do states’ rights automatically trump those of the Federal government? Is the situation automatically reviewed (and then decided) by SCOTUS?

Thinking about this a bit more, I seem to recall reading (I’m a Canadian, so I’m not sure) that for Oregon’s assisted-suicide laws (or whatever they’re called), and for that matter, even when some states legalized ‘medical marijuana’, the Feds reserved the right to prosecute. If so, have they ever gone ahead and done that?

Completely talking out of my ass here, but it’s my understanding that the Feds will enforce their laws even if it contradicts state laws. The feds retain the right to prosecute federal crimes at all times. The main penalty for states is the loss or threat of loss of federal funding for whatever. I’m sure someone with actual knowledge can be more specific and intelligent about it than I.

I think that’s an accurate assessment.

Hmm. Interesting. I would have thought that the 10th amendment implied that the states should prevail (in a philosophical sense if nothing else)? Of course, if that were the legal implication, you probably wouldn’t have answered as you did.

The SCOTUS has decided that the commerce clause grants the feds sweeping powers that are not constrained by the 10th. Reference Gonzales v Raich.

Wow, Clarence Thomas just went way up in my esteem. He spoke from his heart, the heart of a patriot and protector of the individual, when he quoted Madison. Thanks for that cite.

As an aside, it was very interesting for me to see Thomas and Rehnquist among the dissenters (and on the side opposite ‘Nino’).

The Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution means that the federal government wins in any conflict with the states, so long as the federal exercise of power was itself constitutional. Thus, if the federal government sets up a federal bank in California, California cannot tax the bank without federal government permission.

Whether any particular exercise of state power has been preempted by federal law depends on the extent to which they conflict, and whether Congress intended to preempt the state laws. The Supreme Court has so far declined to hear the issue of whether and to what extent California’s medical marijuana laws (or those of any other state) are preempted by the federal government regulation of marijuana.

The additional wrinkle is that the federal government cannot commandeer state authorities to enforce federal law. If the state laws are interpreted to simply remove state sanctions from certain behavior, then this presents no conflict with federal law, and the federal government cannot force state officials to enforce the federal law. This is the uneasy standoff the currently exists in CA.

I must be misreading what you posted, because I thought that was exactly what *Raich *did.

In addition, the administration has told the DEA to stop enforcement against legal California medical marijuana. IIRC, this reversed the Bush era policy.

The distinction is rather subtle. Raich said that the federal government’s regulation of an individual growing medicinal marijuana was within the federal commerce power. That is separate from the question of whether the federal government’s regulation preempts state laws permitting growth and use of medical marijuana. It is a necessary but not sufficient condition of preemption.

The difference, of some constitutional import, is between the Court saying the feds can prosecute and stop X, and the Court saying the states must not permit X.

Historically this was much more of a problem. The best example was the fugitive slave laws.

Many Northern states, simply said, “they weren’t going to enforce it period.”

And even if the state did enforce it, the local jurisdiction often would not do so. (As in Ohio may enforce the slave law but Cincinnati wouldn’t <-made up example)

But this is always not so problematic as seen with gay marriage.

You can be married in some states and not others. A gay marriage in Massachusetts is valid, but it’s not valid in Illinois and it’s not valid for the federal government.

Yeah I realize it’s not the same thing as there’s a criminal part to marijuana not present in gay marriage, but you see the point.

Another exmaple is cellphones and cars. This is not a federal / state thing but a state / city thing. Again two levels of government.

In some cities you can’t talk on a cellphone and drive. Fair enough, but you can talk on a cellphone and drive in the rest of the state.

Seems cut and dry, but not so, some courts have ruled, that since city boundries come and go a driver can’t reasonably be expected to know where he needs to turn off the cell phone. So the ticket’s not enforceable to certain people.

Gun laws are another issue, especially in California. This again is a state / city thing. A state will issue a valid gun license and a city will ban guns. Who trumps who? Well it depends on the state law and the way it’s enforced. We’ve seen in California, courts willing to say the state gun law rules over a local gun law.

In Illinois, Chicago has banned handguns and has successfully made it stick (so far). You can’t buy a handgun in the suburbs and bring it into Chicago. Because Illnois has said, Chicago’s home rule allows it. Other states with home rule have ruled otherwise.

This is confusing to people because the result is mishmash of laws. But when you look at it it’s actually common.

Another good example is our federal courts. We have many cases where a law has been passed and one federal appeals court will rule the law is consitutional and one federal court will rule it unconstitutional.

So what happens? Logic says, you go to the United States Supreme Court and they make the final ruling. And this has happened, but the SCOTUS often will decline to hear the case. The result is that both rulings are upheld.

This has happened more over the years as the federal appeals court based in San Francisco is more liberal than the rest of them. There in fact has been an effort to somehow require the SCOTUS to actually rule of conflicting opinions to straighten things out either way. So far that has failed.

In the case of the marijuana law most likely the federal agents will enforce it and the state will allow them. Why? Because that will bring it to the courts where they can (hopefully) get a “once and for all” final ruling.

Thanks for that post. I’m curious about this:

Can you think of any recent examples?

The 10th would seem to imply that the states have vast areas of power that the feds should not even passing laws about in the first place. Current commerce clause interpretation has made this distinction a joke, and the feds pass pretty much what they want to under the guise that it touches interstate commerce.

But in a situation where a state law conflicts with a valid and constitutional federal law, the federal law trumps due to the Supremecy Clause, which someone here will quote shortly.

The court just agreed to hear Bruesewitz v Wyeth, which asks whether the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act preempts tort liability by vaccine manufacturers outside of vaccine court. The 3rd Court of Appeals ruled that it did. That contradicts Ferrari v. American Home Products, Inc., a decision by the Georgia State Supreme Court, which said that it doesn’t.

The Court also recently heard arguments in Conkright v. Frommert, which challenges a 2nd Circuit decision that a district court “has ‘allowable discretion’ to adopt any ‘reasonable’ interpretation of the terms of an ERISA plan when the plan interpretation issue arises in the course of calculating additional benefits due under the plan as a result of an ERISA violation.” (from the list of questions presented). This contradicts other circuit decisions, which ruled that a district court doesn’t have such discretion.

Are you sure about this? I thought that states had to recognize a marriage if it was valid where performed.

Nope. Currently, only the states of New York, Maryland, and Rhode Island recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, even though they don’t allow them there. (Cue Great Debates thread on the death of the ‘full faith and credit’ clause of the U.S. Constitution.)

In this case, the court was flat wrong, and their reasoning was so suspect it amounted to a public acknowledgement those who voted for it were full of horse-shit. It’s actually hilarious how tortured their reasoning went - and if they actually believed it, Congress would become the all-powerful demigods with no legal limits whatsoever.

If the California legalization proposal passes, the federal government could step in, but whether it actually will depends on a number of things. For instance, if Obama loses in 2012 a more conservative administration could spell a speedy end to the experiment, and probably legal MMJ as well. Otherwise, who knows? If there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem with legal pot in California, it may be left alone. Based on a court precedent, the possession and use of small amounts of MJ for recreational purposes was legal in Alaska for a time; what happened with regard to the federal government then?

I have to wonder if anybody bothers trying to smuggle it into California anymore. Between legal MMJ production and distribution, and the Humboldt farmers covering the illicit side, you’d think that would be enough to supply anyone in the state who wants it.

Wow. How would you like to be traveling through one of those and have an emergency need requiring a recognized marriage?