The Supremacy Clause is article 6, clause 2, of the Constitution of the United States, which establishes the hierarchy of laws in the American state. It states that the U.S. Constitution, federal laws, as well as all international treaties concluded, are supreme laws concerning specific state constitutions and regulations, and have greater legal force.


According to the Supremacy Clause, if there is a contradiction between state and federal law, all judges must be guided by the latter. This requirement is mandatory for all from regional courts to the Supreme Court. In fact, it means that state law is not in force to the extent that it conflicts with federal law. The Supremacy Clause is a constitutional guarantee of the pre-emption of the United States Congress to exercise a legislative function.

Thus, states must bring their laws and constitutions into line with federal-level laws and constitutions. However, states are independent in their legislative activity, and the federal government has no right to interfere in it. The states are not required to obtain federal approval, but must not violate the U.S. Constitution, laws, or international treaties. This ensures uniformity and consistency in legal regulation throughout the country.

There are situations when there is no apparent contradiction between federal and state laws, but there is still an implicit conflict in regulation. For instance, the application of federal and state regulation on the same subject was discussed in the case of Pennsylvania vs. Nelson, 350 U.S. 497 (1956). The judge reasoned that federal regulation should apply since the issue affects the national interest. Moreover, the existence of a rule in federal law on a particular subject, means that there is no room for additional regulation of the state. Thus, the courts apply and clarify the Supremacy Clause, creating judicial precedents of this kind.

The framing of the Supremacy Clause was discussed and drafted by state representatives at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. In the course of the debates, the delegates argued on many issues, proposing certain compromises, but they all agreed that the national Congress should have more legislative powers than the states. There was even a proposal that Congress should be allowed to abolish state laws that were contrary to national interests. However, it was not supported by voting, and the Supremacy Clause has acquired the formulation it now has. The necessity to provide Congress with a legislative advantage was driven by the desire to unify regulations and consolidate legitimate institutions across the Union.

At the same time, some antifederalists considered this clause as a threat to the freedom of states and the autonomy of their discretion. However, most delegates were convinced that the United States needed a strong government. The federalists agreed to adopt the Bill of Rights as the compromise necessary for the adoption of the Supremacy Clause. It limited the rights of the new federal government and indicated that powers not transferred to the federal government by the Constitution and not prohibited to the states remained within state authority.

Thus, the legislative function was distributed between the federal and state levels of government. The United States Congress exercises legislative authority at the national level in accordance with the powers expressly enshrined in the Constitution. The states regulate all issues that are not regulated by the federal government. They are not required to obtain congressional approval when enacting laws, but federal law prevails in the case of a contradiction.