Supremacy Clause

or supremacy clause

[suh-prem-uh-see klawz]

What does Supremacy Clause mean?

The Supremacy Clause is the common moniker of Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution. The clause establishes the Constitution and federal laws as the “supreme Law of the Land,” above state laws.

Examples of Supremacy Clause


Examples of Supremacy Clause
A civil court case in Pittsfield, MA, could have far ranging implications for state sovereignty and the supremacy clause
Eoin Higgins, HuffPost, April, 2016
Could someone please tell @NYCMayor that Federal Immigration Law TRUMPS his BLATANT illegality... Does the Supremacy Clause ring a bell?
@SAMMIESMILES8, January, 2018
Though the supremacy clause, which says federal law trumps state law, might seem simple, ‘the line of when that actually happens gets really, really complex quickly,’ he adds.
Paul Nolette, quoted by Katy Steinmetz, Time, February, 2017

Where does Supremacy Clause come from?

Drafted in 1787 and ratified in 1789, Article VI, Clause 2 went into force with the US Constitution in 1789. The Supremacy Clause reads:

“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

Supremacy is the noun form of supreme and a shorthand for the constitutional idea. Clause is the term used for a distinct article in a legal document. Though James Madison emphasized the term supremacy when discussing this clause of the Constitution in The Federalist Papers No. 44 (1788), Article VI, Clause 2 did not come to be referred to as the Supremacy Clause in legal analysis until the late 1850s and in popular news articles until the late 1910s. Since its popularization, the Supremacy Clause has become an official way to refer to Article VI, Clause 2 in court opinions, educational materials from the National Constitution Center, and political journalism.

Who uses Supremacy Clause?

The Supremacy Clause is rarely referenced outside of legal and political settings. Outside expert settings, it is mostly students who are studying the US Constitution who will encounter the term. Google search analytics supports this almost exclusive classroom usage—searches for “Supremacy Clause” spike every September, the beginning of the school year, and the most common related term searched along with it is definition.

On social media, the Supremacy Clause is most often brought up as a learned term when users want to belittle their opponents in a political debate (as in, “Have you not read the Supremacy Clause?”).

Capitalization of the term varies by style guide.

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