High Court Nixes Massachusetts' `Burma Law'

By Parnas, Susan M. | Nation's Cities Weekly, June 26, 2000 | Go to article overview

High Court Nixes Massachusetts' `Burma Law'


Parnas, Susan M., Nation's Cities Weekly


A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts contracting law in the case of Crosby v. National Foreign Trade Council.

The court had been asked to determine whether the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution was violated by a Massachusetts law limiting the authority of state agencies to purchase goods and services from companies that do business in Burma.

The court decided that the Massachusetts law did violate the Supremacy Clause and was preempted by federal law.

Background

Three months after the Massachusetts law was passed, the U.S. Congress passed legislation imposing its own sanctions on Burma.

The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), an association of companies that engages in foreign trade, maintains that the state statute usurps the foreign policymaking powers of the United State Congress and the excecutive branch.

The NFTC also argued that the federal law preempts the state Burma law. NLC filed an amicus brief in support of Massachusetts.

The statute at issue in the case was enacted by the Massachusetts legislature in response to outcry against human rights abuses committed by the military dictatorship governing Burma.

It requires the state's agencies to evaluate the bid of a company that does business in Burma as if it were ten percent higher, thus making the bid less competitive.

Although the statute has several exemptions, the NFTC alleged that it "effectively forces businesses to choose between doing business in Burma or Massachusetts."

The Massachusetts law also piqued the ire of several members of Congress like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) who filed briefs in support of the NFTC.

Supreme Court Analysis and NLC's arguments

NLC and the state of Massachusetts, joined by Sen. …

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High Court Nixes Massachusetts' `Burma Law'
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