The Supremacy Clause Puts Federal Law on Top

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What is the Supremacy Clause and what does it do? How does Federalist 33 address the Supremacy Clause?

The Supremacy Clause is a part of the Constitution that helps the national government’s laws take priority over state laws. Federalist 33 explains the need for such language.

Keep reading to understand the Supremacy Clause and Federalist 33.

Giving the National Government More Power

Having established the failures of the old system of government, we’ll use this chapter to outline the principles of the new Constitution that had been drafted at Philadelphia in 1787. In particular, we’ll analyze the specific purposes the new government was designed to achieve with regard to the core functions of national administration:

  • National defense 
  • Taxation
  • Regulating foreign commerce and making treaties
  • Overseeing interstate commerce

A core principle held by the framers of the new Constitution was that it wasn’t enough to merely grant powers to the federal government in the abstract; the Articles of Confederation had done that, to no effect. Rather, the new government needed to have the authority to make laws and enforce provisions that would enable it to effectively exert those powers. Without this, the Constitution would be worthless.

If the government was to be tasked with defending the nation and securing peace, it needed the power to raise an army; if it was to finance the public debt and secure public credit, it needed to have the requisite powers of taxation to do so. We will explore these and other powers of the new government in this chapter.

The Supremacy Clause

The framers of the Constitution could not have known how society and law would develop over time; overly constraining or empowering the government by listing specific powers could have the effect of making it difficult for it to respond to future situations. Instead, it was better to let future politicians, judges, and citizens determine the specific scope of federal power.

The opponents of the new government were also agitated over the Supremacy Clause, that part of the Constitution which made federal law the supreme law of the land—superseding state law (and requiring even state officials to swear an oath of allegiance to the Constitution). But again, such a clause simply goes hand-in-hand with the task of setting up a federal system.

As explained by Federalist 33, a national government that is unable to exercise supremacy over its constituent members is not a national government at all; it’s merely a voluntary treaty or association that can be broken up by any of the parties to it. The framers of the Constitution were charged with creating a government for the United States. Without some sort of Supremacy Clause, any plan for a Union that comprised both the states and a national government would have been meaningless.

The Supremacy Clause Puts Federal Law on Top

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Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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