Constitutional Law I, Pages 333–340

Gade v. National Solid Wastes Management Association

Supreme Court of the United States, 1992


Illinois passed two licensing acts pertaining to workers involved in handling hazardous wastes "to promote job safety" and "to protect life, limb, and property." These required license applicants to have at least 40 hours training in an in-state program, to pass a written exam, and to complete an annual refresher course.

The federal government had already passed the OSH Act and thereunder OSHA had set its own regulations requiring, among other things, 40 hours of off-site instruction, three days field experience, and annual refresher training.

National Solid Wastes Management Association sought to enjoin the enforcement of the Illinois licensing acts, claiming that they were preempted by the OSHA regulations.

Procedural History:

  • The District Court held that state laws that attempt to regulate workplace safety and health are not pre-empted by the OSH Act when the laws have a "legitimate and substantial purpose apart from promoting job safety."

  • The Court of Appeals held that the OSH Act pre-empts all state law that "constitutes, in a direct, clear and substantial way, regulation of worker health and safety," unless the Secretary has explicitly approved the state law.


Were the Illinois health and safety laws preempted?



The statute's provision of a way for states to establish their own standards in 18(b) would imply that it expressly preempts state regulations, but 18(a) says that it does not prevent states regulating workplace safety issues where there is no federal standard in effect.

However, Congress intended to promote a uniform system of occupational health and safety standards. Allowing a state to establish its own standards in addition to instead of in place of federal regulations would stand as an obstacle to this goal of only having a single set of standards. This was then an obstacle conflict preemption.

While Illinois says that it had an additional, separate goal of public safety, this does not stop it from preempted.


Yes, the federal law impliedly preempted the state law. Affirmed.

Concurring Opinion:

Kennedy: This should not be classified as a conflict preemption, as this should only imply when compliance with both is impossible. However, this was instead an express preemption. Congress said in 18(b) that states "shall" submit a plan if it wishes to "assume responsibility" for workplace safety. The most reasonable inference from this is that a state cannot enforce workplace safety regulations without partaking in this process.

Dissenting Opinion:

Souter: Impossibility conflict preemption should be the only type of implied preemption. The majority's reasoning is practically similar to field preemption, which section 18(a) rules out. The statute here permits a dual regulatory scheme. There is no clear expression congressional intent to preempt, so as long as it does not make obedience to Illinois' regulations impossible, the enforcement of the state law is not prohibited.