Home State Laws Is There a Difference Between Federal and State Law?

Is There a Difference Between Federal and State Law?

Is There a Difference Between Federal and State Law?

Is There a Difference Between Federal and State Law?

The legal system in the United States operates on a dual system, where both federal and state laws coexist. It is important to understand the distinction between these two bodies of law to navigate the intricacies of the legal landscape. In this article, we will explore the key differences between federal and state law and shed light on the jurisdictional boundaries that govern various legal matters.

1. Sources of Law:

Federal Law: Federal law is derived from the United States Constitution, the primary authority governing the entire nation. It also includes laws passed by Congress, federal regulations created by administrative agencies, and decisions issued by federal courts.

State Law: State law, on the other hand, derives its authority from individual state constitutions, statutes passed by state legislatures, regulations created by state agencies, and judicial decisions made by state courts. Each state has its own legal system, giving them the authority to regulate various aspects within their jurisdiction.

2. Jurisdiction:

Federal Jurisdiction: Federal law governs matters of national interest, such as interstate commerce, immigration, bankruptcy, patent and copyright law, civil rights, and constitutional issues. Additionally, federal law comes into play when a legal dispute arises between parties from different states or when a violation of federal law occurs.

State Jurisdiction: State law has jurisdiction over a broad range of issues that predominantly affect the state’s residents, including criminal law, family law, property law, contract law, business regulations, and personal injury cases. Each state may have its own variations within these areas, resulting in some differences in state laws among different jurisdictions.

3. Hierarchy and Supremacy:

Federal Supremacy: The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution establishes that federal law is supreme over state law. This means that if there is a conflict between a federal law and a state law on the same subject, the federal law prevails. However, federal law only extends to matters within the scope of federal authority, leaving certain areas exclusively under state jurisdiction.

State Autonomy: States retain the authority to establish their own laws and regulations, as long as they do not conflict with federal law. This allows each state to address unique concerns and tailor laws to suit its particular needs, while still operating within the overarching legal system established by the federal government.

4. Legal Interpretation and Courts:

Federal Courts: Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, interpret and apply federal law. They possess jurisdiction over cases involving federal crimes, disputes between states, constitutional issues, and violations of federal statutes. These courts play a crucial role in shaping and refining federal law through their decisions and precedents.

State Courts: State courts are responsible for interpreting and applying state law. They handle the vast majority of legal disputes, including criminal cases, civil matters, family law issues, and contract disputes that fall under state jurisdiction. State courts shape state law through their individual decisions, which may vary based on differences in interpretation and the specific legal principles adopted by each state.


Understanding the distinction between federal and state law is vital for comprehending the legal landscape in the United States. While federal law governs matters of national concern and interstate conflicts, state law encompasses a wide range of issues that affect residents within a specific jurisdiction. Federal law takes precedence over state law when conflicts arise, but state autonomy remains intact within their respective jurisdictions. By grasping the jurisdictional boundaries and hierarchy of law, individuals can navigate the complexities of the legal system and ensure compliance with both federal and state regulations.


In the United States, there are laws that apply at the federal, state, and local levels. State laws in the countries are codes of legislation and statutes that are considered separate from those in kept in federal legislation, which apply to the nation as a whole. State laws are meant to not only establish certain legal applications, but essentially exist as the internal structure for the state’s government.
Therefore, all state laws are created and implemented by the states unto themselves. Laws that are created by the state will often times be based on federal laws as well, though certain changes may be applied to make a particular statute more strict.
An example can be in terms of the DUI laws that exist at the federal level. The federal laws regarding DUI BAC levels impose a national 0.08% limit. However, there are certain states that impose a lower limit and also a “zero tolerance” provision, further applying federal laws but making them more severe at the state level.