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<nobr>Jun 18, 2008</nobr>

Senate Judiciary Committee Examines Supreme Court Rulings on ERISA Preemption

The Senate Judiciary Committee on June 11 held a hearing that examined recent Supreme Court rulings on preemption under ERISA, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and federal consumer credit and banking laws. The hearing's title was certainly an indicator of the tone of the hearing: Short-change for Consumers and Short-shrift for Congress? The Supreme Court's Treatment of Laws that Protect Americans' Health, Safety, Jobs and Retirement.

In his opening statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said that "Congress has passed laws to protect Americans in these areas, but in many cases, the Supreme Court has ignored the intent of Congress in passing these measures, oftentimes turning these laws on their heads, and making them protections for big business rather than for ordinary citizens." In referring to ERISA, Leahy said that the "Court has so distorted this law that it provides no relief for individual beneficiaries, when the companies and insurers entrusted with administering their benefit plans violate the law or the terms of the employees' plans."

Leahy also criticized the Senate for failing to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. dismissing an employee's claim of pay discrimination over a failure of timely filing.

Andy Anderson of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius discussed the importance of ERISA in maintaining the voluntary, employer-provided system. Anderson discussed how ERISA Section 514, which generally preempts state jurisdiction over employer-provided health benefits, and Section 502, which provides the rules associated with the civil enforcement of ERISA, work in unison to encourage employers to voluntarily extend health benefits to their employees. He also pointed out how the National Coalition on Benefits (of which ERIC is a leading member) is dedicated to working with Congress to maintain employers' ability to provide uniform health and retirement benefits to employees and retirees across state and local lines, and to ensure that federal health reform initiatives preserve ERISA benefits.

Both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have taken an active interest in employee benefits recently and ERIC members are cautioned to include both committees in their "preemption watch." As we have been reporting, the threats to ERISA preemption are real, and ERIC will continue to work to ensure the preservation of ERISA preemption and the ability of employers to offer uniform health and retirement benefits.

For questions or comments on this issue or for additional information on the NCB, contact Edwina Rogers,, Joe Grundy,, or Rohan Beesla,

ERIC's Preemption Watch

Witness Testimony

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