Next on the Docket: Supreme Court to Hear Argument in Important Preemption Case Williamson v. Mazda Motor

By Brooke Obie, Online Communications Director

On Wednesday, November 3, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the important federal preemption case Williamson v. Mazda Motor, and CAC’s Chief Counsel Elizabeth Wydra will be there to hear the arguments first hand and provide her reactions after the argument.  As discussed in greater detail here, Williamson involves a tragic car accident that killed Thanh Williamson, a 32-year-old woman who was riding in the middle seat of the middle row of a Mazda minivan, where there was a lap-only seat belt. The tragedy resulted in a lawsuit over whether Mazda’s decision to install lap-only (rather than shoulder and lap) seatbelts in that location in the vehicle should subject the company to liability in state court.

Back in August, CAC filed an amicus brief in the case supporting Ms. Williamson’s estate, and arguing for state remedies that enhance Americans’ safety. As we explain, the text and history of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause — which makes federal law controlling over state and local laws — only require preemption when a state law or remedy directly conflicts with federal law.  The Constitution’s text and history — as well as Supreme Court case law — do not support preemption in this case.

Establishing the supremacy of federal laws when an actual conflict arises between state and federal law is necessary and important to the functioning of our government. But so, too, is the vital and historical role that states play in protecting the public’s health and safety and in ensuring that individuals (or their families) can obtain compensation for injuries (or death) caused by the failure of corporations or persons to meet a state’s health and safety standards.