Argument Analysis: Justices Express Skepticism over Using Legislative Motive in Pre-emption Analysis

by Emily Hammond | November 06, 2018

This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US).

The Supreme Court heard oral argument yesterday morning in Virginia Uranium Inc. v. Warren, which concerns the largest uranium deposit in the United States, located in south-central Virginia. The petitioners are owners of the deposit who wish to mine uranium, and they are challenging a 1983 statute by which the Virginia General Assembly imposed a moratorium on uranium mining. Although all parties agree that uranium mining is a matter for state regulation, the owners contend that the moratorium was impermissibly intended to regulate radiation safety associated with uranium milling and tailings management — a field pre-empted by the Atomic Energy Act. The case therefore raises questions about the extent to which a state legislature's motives are relevant to deciding whether the state statute is pre-empted.

Arguing for the owners, attorney Charles Cooper quickly faced inquiries from the justices on this point. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh pressed Cooper to explain how the Supreme Court should review a state statute that is motivated by both permissible and impermissible purposes. Justice Sonia Sotomayor also raised methodological concerns, asking, "Is this going to require deposing every single legislative member?" Justice Neil Gorsuch worried about guessing at state legislators' motives, noting the "methodological, epistemological, and federalism questions" doing so would raise. And Justice Elena ...

Argument Preview: Justices May Consider Role of Legislative Motive in Pre-emption Analysis

by Emily Hammond | October 30, 2018
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). Click here to read Professor Hammond's follow-up analysis of the oral arguments in this case. On November 5, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren, which could test the extent to which a court will explore a state legislature’s motives when evaluating whether a state statute is pre-empted by federal law. The facts concern the ...

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