Supremacy Clause

Hillman v. Maretta

Warren Hillman named his wife, Judy Maretta, the beneficiary of his Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Act (FEGLIA) in 1996. The two subsequently divorced and Hillman remarried, but never changed the named beneficiary on his plan to his new wife, Jacqueline Hillman. Upon Warren Hillman’s death, Jacqueline Hillman attempted to claim death benefits under this policy, but her claim was denied because she was not the named beneficiary. Maretta received the benefits instead and Jacqueline Hillman commenced a suit against Maretta for the full amount of the death benefits.

Under Virginia state law, when a couple is divorced their beneficiary designations are automatically revoked. However, the  FEGLIA states that the beneficiary named on the policy shall receive the death benefits regardless of current marital status. The Supreme Court will now decide whether FEGLIA preempts Virginia’s state law regarding named beneficiaries, which will determine whether Jacqueline Hillman or Judy Maretta receives Warren Hillman’s death benefits. This case involves the proper balance of the federal government’s interest in uniform rules for the distribution of FEGLI benefits and the state of Virginia’s interest in seeing the intended beneficiary, rather than the named beneficiary, receive the death benefits.

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Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

VA. CODE ANN. § 20-111.1(A) (2011) provides that a life insurance policy's revocable beneficiary designation naming a then spouse is deemed revoked upon the entry of a Final Decree of Divorce. 5 U.S.C. § 8705(a) provides that the proceeds from a Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) policy should be paid to the beneficiaries properly designated by the employee, and if none, then to the widow of the employee. If VA. CODE ANN. § 20-111.1 (A) is preempted by 5 U.S.C. § 8705(a) or any other federal law, VA. CODE ANN. § 20-111.1(D) (2011), gives the widow (or whoever would otherwise be entitled to the insurance proceeds), after FEGLI insurance proceeds have been distributed to an ex-spouse, a domestic relations equitable remedy against the ex-spouse for the amount of the insurance proceeds received.

The Supreme Court of Virginia, in agreement with the Supreme Court of Alabama, the First, Seventh and Eleventh Circuits of the United States Court of Appeals and several lower federal courts, but in direct conflict with the Indiana Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of Mississippi, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina, the Appellate Court of Illinois, the Missouri Court of Appeals, the Court of Appeals of Texas, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, and the Court of Appeals of Kentucky, held that 5 U.S.C. § 8705(a) preempts a state domestic relations equitable action against the beneficiary of a FEGLI policy after the insurance proceeds of such policy have been paid to such beneficiary in accordance with the statutory order of precedence in 5 U.S.C. § 8705(a).

The question presented is whether 5 U.S.C. § 8705(a), any other provision of the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance Act of 1954 (FEGLIA) or any regulation promulgated thereunder preempts a state domestic relations equitable remedy which creates a cause of action against the recipient of FEGLI insurance proceeds after they have been distributed, like the one contained in VA. CODE ANN. § 20-111.1(D).

Issue

Whether any provision of the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance Act of 1954 preempts states from creating an equitable remedy where a third party can recover the amount of the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance benefit from the original beneficiary.

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Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann

Tarrant Regional Water District ("Tarrant") seeks to export water to Texas from multiple sources within Oklahoma which are covered by the Red River Compact ("Compact"), a congressionally approved water apportionment agreement between Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.  In 2007, Tarrant sued members of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board ("OWRB"), including Herrmann, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.  Tarrant sought a declaratory judgment that certain Oklahoma statutes dealing with water apportionment are unconstitutional and an injunction preventing the OWRB from applying the statutes to Tarrant's application for water.  Tarrant argued that the Oklahoma statutes violate the dormant Commerce Clause by burdening interstate commerce and that the statutes are preempted insofar as they conflict with the Compact's language. Tarrant argues that the Compact provides Texas with cross-border rights to access water located in Oklahoma and that Oklahoma’s water permitting statutes violate the dormant Commerce Clause by discriminating against out-of-state water users. OWRB argues that the signatory states to the Compact did not surrender their sovereignty by signing the Compact and that the Commerce Clause does not apply in this case because the Compact shelters Oklahoma’s water laws from scrutiny under the Commerce Clause.  Both parties fear that this decision, if decided for the opposing party, will cause severe social, economic, and environmental harm to their states.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

1. Whether Congress's approval of an interstate water compact that grants the contracting States "equal rights" to certain surface water and - using language present in almost all such compacts - provides that the compact shall not "be deemed … to interfere" with each State's "appropriation, use, and control of water … not inconsistent with its obligations under this Compact," manifests unmistakably clear congressional consent to state laws that expressly burden interstate commerce in water.

2. Whether a provision of a congressionally approved multi-state compact that is designed to ensure an equal share of water among the contracting states preempts protectionist state laws that obstruct other states from accessing the water to which they are entitled by the compact.

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State of Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona

The state of Arizona passed Proposition 200 by popular referendum. Proposition 200 requires that a person must present proof of citizenship when registering to vote and a voter must present identification when casting a ballot. Multiple parties sued the state of Arizona, arguing that Congress had preempted the states in this area of election law with the National Voter Registration Act. While the Ninth Circuit ruled that the National Voter Registration Act superseded the registration requirement, the court also held that the identification requirement at a polling place is legal. Arizona is now appealing the registration requirement to the Supreme Court, arguing that this falls within their powers and the lower courts are taking a broader view of preemption that is not in line with the past rulings of the Supreme Court. The outcome of this case will play a large role in the ability of the states to pass laws governing voter registration, and the Court’s evaluation of preemption will likely have a large effect on the balance of power between the states and federal government.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Did the court of appeals err 1) in creating a new, heightened preemption test under Article I, Section 4, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution ("the Elections Clause") that is contrary to this Court's authority and conflicts with other circuit court decisions, and 2) in holding that under that test the National Voter Registration Act preempts an Arizona law that requests persons who are registering to vote to show evidence that they are eligible to vote?

Issue

Does the National Voter Registration Act preempt state law to the level that lower courts should afford Congress greater deference under the Elections Clause?

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Douglas v. Independent Living Center of Southern California (09-958); Douglas v. California Pharmacist Association (09-1158); Douglas v. Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital (10-283)

Oral argument: October 3, 2011

Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (July 9, 2009)

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