Building & Constr. Trades Council v. Associated Builders & Contractors of Mass./R. I., Inc., 507 U.S. 218, 12 (1993)

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Cite as: 507 U. S. 218 (1993)

Opinion of the Court

employer conduct unrelated to the employer's performance of contractual obligations to the State, and because the State's reason for such conduct was to deter NLRA violations, we concluded: "Wisconsin 'simply is not functioning as a private purchaser of services,' . . . [and therefore,] for all practical purposes, Wisconsin's debarment scheme is tantamount to regulation." Id., at 289. We emphasized that we were "not say[ing] that state purchasing decisions may never be influenced by labor considerations." Id., at 291.

The conceptual distinction between regulator and purchaser exists to a limited extent in the private sphere as well. A private actor, for example, can participate in a boycott of a supplier on the basis of a labor policy concern rather than a profit motive. See id., at 290. The private actor under such circumstances would be attempting to "regulate" the suppliers and would not be acting as a typical proprietor. The fact that a private actor may "regulate" does not mean, of course, that the private actor may be "pre-empted" by the NLRA; the Supremacy Clause does not require pre-emption of private conduct. Private actors therefore may "regulate" as they please, as long as their conduct does not violate the law. As the above passage in Gould makes clear, however, States have a qualitatively different role to play from private parties. Ibid. When the State acts as regulator, it performs a role that is characteristically a governmental rather than a private role, boycotts notwithstanding. Moreover, as regulator of private conduct, the State is more powerful than private parties. These distinctions are far less significant when the State acts as a market participant with no interest in setting policy.

In Gould, we did not address fully the implications of these distinctions. We left open the question whether a State may act without offending the pre-emption principles of the NLRA when it acts as a proprietor and its acts therefore are not "tantamount to regulation" or policymaking. As ex-


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