Barnett Bank of Marion Cty., N. A. v. Nelson, 517 U.S. 25, 7 (1996)

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Cite as: 517 U. S. 25 (1996)

Opinion of the Court

Sometimes courts, when facing the pre-emption question, find language in the federal statute that reveals an explicit congressional intent to pre-empt state law. E. g., Jones v. Rath Packing Co., 430 U. S. 519, 525, 530-531 (1977). More often, explicit pre-emption language does not appear, or does not directly answer the question. In that event, courts must consider whether the federal statute's "structure and purpose," or nonspecific statutory language, nonetheless reveal a clear, but implicit, pre-emptive intent. Id., at 525; Fidelity Fed. Sav. & Loan Assn. v. De la Cuesta, 458 U. S. 141, 152-153 (1982). A federal statute, for example, may create a scheme of federal regulation "so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it." Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U. S. 218, 230 (1947). Alternatively, federal law may be in "irreconcilable conflict" with state law. Rice v. Norman Williams Co., 458 U. S. 654, 659 (1982). Compliance with both statutes, for example, may be a "physical impossibility," Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul, 373 U. S. 132, 142-143 (1963); or, the state law may "stan[d] as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U. S. 52, 67 (1941).

In this case we must ask whether or not the Federal and State Statutes are in "irreconcilable conflict." The two statutes do not impose directly conflicting duties on national banks—as they would, for example, if the federal law said, "you must sell insurance," while the state law said, "you may not." Nonetheless, the Federal Statute authorizes national banks to engage in activities that the State Statute expressly forbids. Thus, the State's prohibition of those activities would seem to "stan[d] as an obstacle to the accomplishment" of one of the Federal Statute's purposes—unless, of course, that federal purpose is to grant the bank only a very limited permission, that is, permission to sell insurance to the extent that state law also grants permission to do so.


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