Puerto Rico Dept. of Consumer Affairs v. ISLA Petroleum Corp.

485 U. S. 495

April 19, 1988

Congress passed price and allocation controls on oil in response to the oil crisis of 1973. This legislation clearly preempted any state legislation in the area. Some years later, when the oil market went back to normal, Congress took away basically all the regulation, apparently leaving things to the free market. Puerto Rico then tried to put some price controls into law, and it was disputed whether the preemption from the now repealed federal legislation still stood.

With Scalia writing, the Court ruled 8-0 that Puerto Rico could regulate (O’Connor did not participate). Scalia said that the Court wants to see specific textual evidence of preemption before finding such. Because there was no positive indication that state legislation would be preempted even after repeal, the Court was loath to find it. Statements by some in Congress indicating that unregulated free markets were intended by the repeal were not deemed clear enough. In short, “repeal of [oil] regulation did not leave behind a pre-emptive grin without a statutory cat.”

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