“The Supremacy Clause commands that the ‘[l]aws of the United States,’ not the unenacted hopes and dreams of the Department of Transportation, ‘shall be the supreme Law of the Land.’”

February 23rd, 2011

Justice Thomas on implied preemption in Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc.

To answer that question, the majority engages in a“freewheeling, extratextual, and broad evaluatio[n] of the ‘purposes and objectives’” of FMVSS 208. Wyeth, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 23) (opinion of THOMAS, J.). The Court wades into a sea of agency musings and Government litigating positions and fishes for what the agency may have been thinking 20 years ago when it drafted the rele-vant provision. After scrutinizing the 1989 Federal Regis-ter, a letter written in 1994, and the Solicitor General’s present-day assurances, the Court finds that Departmentof Transportation liked the idea of lap-and-shoulder seat-belts in all seats, but did not require them, primarily for cost-efficiency reasons and also because of some concernfor ingress-egress around the belt mounts. Ante, at 8–11. From all of this, the majority determines that although the regulators specifically and intentionally gave manu-facturers a choice between types of seatbelts, that choicewas not a “significant regulatory objective” and so does not pre-empt state tort lawsuits.

“[F]reeranging speculation about what the purposes of the [regulation] must have been” is not constitutionallyproper in any case. Wyeth, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 15) (opinion of THOMAS, J.). The Supremacy Clause com-mands that the “[l]aws of the United States,” not theunenacted hopes and dreams of the Department of Trans-portation, “shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” U. S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2. The impropriety is even more obvi-ous here because the plain text of the Safety Act resolves this case.