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The powers are distributed in a federal system. But often, the jurisdiction of the federal government and that of the state/province/etc. can intersect for a particular subject matter (e.g. federal bankruptcy proceedings and contracts under state law; local labour and zoning regulations of federal corporations).

In several federal systems (see examples below), a validly enacted constitutional federal law prevails over contradictory laws of a constituting state/province/canton, even if they are also validly and constitutionally enacted.


For example, Article Six of the United States Constitution:

[...] the Laws of the United States [...] shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Article 49 paragraph 1 of the Swiss Federal Constitution:

Federal law takes precedence over any conflicting provision of cantonal law.

Australian constitution provides the same:

  1. When a law of a State is inconsistent with a law of the Commonwealth, the latter shall prevail, and the former shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be invalid.

In Canada, there is a doctrine of federal paramountcy based on section 91 of the 1867 constitution:

[...] it is hereby declared that (notwithstanding anything in this Act) the exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to all Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated [...]

where the bold part is interpreted as to give the Parliament paramount power over enumerated subjects.


Question: Are there federations or similar political system where the local law is given preference/primacy/supremacy/paramountcy?

Historical examples are not excluded. Local primacy in a particular subject matter is included.

Confederations and bodies like EU are also acceptable to me. But the primacy should not be in the form of vetos at legislative stage or having an option to leave.

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I think the best examples are probably Russia, Kenya and South Africa.

Article 76 of Russia's Constitution sets out the intersection between federal laws and laws enacted by subjects of the Russian Federation. In particular, part 6 gives the latter law precedence, so long as the subject of the law falls "outside the limits of authority of the Russian Federation, of the joint jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and the subjects of the Russian Federation.

Article 76

  1. On the issues under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation federal constitutional laws and federal laws shall be adopted and have direct action in the whole territory of the Russian Federation.

  2. On the issues under the joint jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and subjects of the Russian Federation federal laws shall issued and laws and other normative acts of the subjects of the Russian Federation shall be adopted according to them.

  3. Federal laws may not contradict the federal constitutional laws.

  4. Outside the limits of authority of the Russian Federation, of the joint jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and the subjects of the Russian Federation, the Republics, territories, regions, cities of federal importance, autonomous regions or autonomous areas shall exercise their own legal regulation, including the adoption of laws and other normative acts.

  5. The laws and other legislative acts of the subjects of the Russian Federation may not contradict the federal laws adopted according to the first and second parts of this Article. In case of a contradiction between a federal law and an act issued in the Russian Federation the federal law shall be applied.

  6. In case of a contradiction between a federal law and a normative act of a subject of the Russian Federation adopted according to the fourth part of this Article, the normative legal act of the subject of the Russian Federation shall be applied.

The Kenyan constitution contains a similar provision in Article 191. Conflict of Laws, which gives the circumstances under which national law prevails over county legislation - matters of national security, the protection of the common market, and so on. Outside of these circumstances, clause 4 of the article gives county legislation primacy:

  1. County legislation prevails over national legislation if neither of the circumstances contemplated in clause 2 [the exceptions mentioned above] apply.

This is very close to the South African constitution - Article 146. Conflicts between national and provincial legislation contains a very similar list of exclusions, outside of which subsection 5 of the article states:

  1. Provincial legislation prevails over national legislation if subsection (2) or (3) does not apply.
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    Excellent, thank you. Although looking at the list of competences referred to in the Russian Constitution, I feel few subjects are really outside of those areas (at least not off the top of my head).
    – xngtng
    May 21 at 13:13
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You may feel it's splitting hairs, but if the smaller body's laws have unconditional primacy (i.e. they maintance sovereign on all matters) , that would, under one traditional taxonomy, be a confederation rather than a federation. This is because the smaller body could pass a law saying it was no longer a member of the larger group, and thus leave entirely under its own cognisance.

An example of such a group would be the European Union, at least when the UK was a member, since member states retain their own traditional constitutional arrangements, and the UK is heavily dualist in its interpretation of international law, with the theory under which EU law applied in the various UK legal systems being because UK law said it did.

If you are taking a more restrictive view in which the small bodies laws take precedence over a more restrictive range of areas, then this is (at least in theory) a feature in the constitutions of a number of federal states, some of which specifically enumerate who controls what. Even in unitary states, an number devolve certain matters down to local or regional government.

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  • I was wondering if any federal or confederal systems where the more local law takes precedence over the federal law, when the division of powers are respected by both jurisdictions. Sorry if my question was not clear, I'll edit it now.
    – xngtng
    May 21 at 12:29

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