United States v. Locke

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

DOCKET NO.: 98-1701
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 529 US 89 (2000)
ARGUED: Dec 07, 1999
DECIDED: Mar 06, 2000

C. Jonathan Benner - Argued the cause for petitioner in No. 98-1706
David C. Frederick - Department of Justice, argued the cause for petitioner in No. 98-1701
William B. Collins - Olympia, Washington, argued the cause for respondents

Facts of the case

In the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the State of Washington created the Office of Marine Safety, which was directed to establish standards to provide the "best achievable protection" (BAP) from oil spill damage. The agency promulgated tanker design, equipment, reporting, and operating requirements. The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko), a trade association of tanker operators, filed suit against the state and local officials responsible for enforcing the BAP regulations. Intertanko argued that Washington's BAP standards had entered an area occupied by the federal government and imposed unique requirements in an area where national uniformity was mandated. Further, Intertanko argued that if every political subdivision were to promulgate such maritime regulations, the goal of national governments to develop effective international environmental and safety would be undermined. The District Court upheld Washington's regulations. Thereafter, the Federal Government intervened on Intertanko's behalf, contending that the District Court's ruling failed to give sufficient weight to the substantial foreign affairs interests of the Federal Government. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


Are the State of Washington's maritime regulations on tanker design, equipment, reporting, and operating requirements pre-empted by federal law?

Media for United States v. Locke

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 1999 in United States v. Locke

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 06, 2000 in United States v. Locke

William H. Rehnquist:

The first one is United States against Locke, No.98-1701.

Concerned about oil spills which could be catastrophic for its sea coasts and inland waters, the state of Washington has enacted comprehensive laws seeking to regulate oil tankers entering its waters.

These waters include Puget Sound in the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, which is the way you get from the Pacific Ocean into Puget Sound.

In 1978, in a case called Ray versus Atlantic Richfield, the Court held with certain laws enacted by Washington to regulate tankers, were preempted by federal laws.

This case involves laws regulating tankers that Washington enacted well after our decision in Ray.

The District Court and the Court of Appeals to the Ninth Circuit upheld all but one of Washington's new laws.

In an opinion for the Court authored by Justice Kennedy, we now reverse them of the Ninth Circuit.

The court's opinion reaffirmed that general analytical structure in the essential holding of the Ray case.

In light of an established federal and international regulatory scheme, we hold that various Washington laws discussed in the opinion are preempted.

Preemption principles respect the established federal state balance in matters of Maritime Commerce.

That balance recognizes subjects as to which the states retain concurrent powers and those that were which the federal authority displaces state control.

The opinion discusses in detail for separate Washington tanker rules, all of which we find to be preempted by Federal Law.

The petitioners have argued that other Washington tanker rule should be declared preempted as well.

These questions we leave to the Court of Appeals or to the District Court for further proceedings on remand.

The judgment of Court of Appeals is reversed.

The opinion of the Court is unanimous.