In a pair of rulings issued today, the Supreme Court brushed aside state protections for victims of defective products and children. These rulings continue an unfortunate and unnecessary trend of Court decisions that block state courts and legislatures in the name of federal preemption.
In Riegel v. Medtronic, seven justices agreed that FDA approval of a medical device prevents consumers injured by the device from seeking a remedy in state courts. But it is not at all clear that Congress intended to strip state courts of their power and consumers of their protections when it passed the law governing medical devices. As Justice Ruth Ginsburg said in dissent, “The constriction of state authority ordered today was not mandated by Congress and is at odds with the [Medical Device Amendments’] central purpose: to protect consumer safety.”
The Court similarly nullified a Maine law requiring tobacco shippers to use delivery services that checked recipients’ identification, just as in-person vendors of cigarettes do, to make sure kids do not buy tobacco products. Congress has repeatedly encouraged states to keep tobacco out of the hands of children, and given them federal funding for programs that do so. Nevertheless, in Rowe v. New Hampshire Motor Transport Association, the Court decided that this sensible state law was blocked by the federal statute governing shipping and carrier services.
Community Rights Counsel Executive Director Doug Kendall expressed his disappointment with the decisions: “The Court today poked a gaping hole in our Federalist system, blocking important state solutions for keeping tobacco away from kids and protecting all of us from defective medical devises without any clear indication that Congress wanted to stop state innovation. At least in prior preemption cases, the Court paid lip service to federalism. Today it appears to have thrown it out the window.”
Community Rights Counsel (CRC) is a public interest law firm that promotes constitutional principles to defend laws that make our communities environmentally sound and socially just. Community Rights Counsel filed an amicus brief in support of the Riegels in the Riegel v. Medtronic case, arguing that the Court should apply a clear statement rule in all preemption cases. Our clients were CRC, the Public Health Advocacy Institute and Prescription Access Litigation. Our brief is available at www.communityrights.org/legalresources/crcbriefs/indexofbriefs.php . CRC did not file a brief in Rowe.