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What happens when a federal law conflicts with another federal law?

What happens if the conflict is the result of amendments to either law, and both laws have been amended many times. For example, the Fair Housing Act, and HERA 2008?

For example, amendments to HERA allow LIHTC recipients to charge a NED(Non-elderly Disabled) Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher recipients a higher rent, than those tenants who do not receive a NED. NEDs are only provided to tenants who are disabled as defined under the FHA. Thus, the provision of HERA which allows a LIHTC property to charge a NED voucher recipient tenant a higher rent is in conflict with the Fair Housing Act's requirement that LIHTC recipients affirmatively further fair housing, and no discriminate based on disability. Charging a NED recipient a higher rent is discriminating based on disability, because a tenant only receives a NED if they are disabled.

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    I imagine it depends on the nature and extent of the conflict. Identifying an actual conflict might attract more useful answers.
    – bdb484
    Aug 18, 2023 at 4:29
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    There is no conflict. The one law applies in a different circumstance from the other law. If you would provide a real example of a supposed conflict, we could show how the conflict is only apparent.
    – user6726
    Aug 18, 2023 at 4:37
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    Which federation? Resolution mechanisms differ over the world.
    – o.m.
    Aug 18, 2023 at 4:41
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    How is the word "federal" relevant to the question? This could apply to any kind of statutory law in any country or sub-national entity. If your interest is in any particular country (e.g. the US), then please state this in the question and add a tag. Aug 18, 2023 at 12:44
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    "What happens when a federal law conflicts with another federal law?" This doesn't have a general answer at this level of generality.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 18, 2023 at 18:06

3 Answers 3

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The relationship between multiple statutes from the same jurisdiction would be resolved through an ordinary exercise of statutory interpretation to determine what law applies in the circumstances.

Courts will first attempt to interpret the statutes as not being in conflict. See Thibodeau v. Air Canada, 2014 SCC 67:

Courts presume that legislation passed by Parliament does not contain contradictions or inconsistencies and only find that they exist when provisions are so inconsistent that they are incapable of standing together. Even where provisions overlap in the sense that they address aspects of the same subject, they are interpreted so as to avoid conflict wherever this is possible.

Sometimes an earlier law will have strong overriding language such as "notwithstanding any other provision of federal law, no person shall do X."

There are also several presumptions of statutory interpretation that may assist in resolving any remaining conflict (see generally, Ruth Sullivan, Statutory Interpretation, Chapter 19: "Overlap and Conflict"). E.g.:

  • that a later statute prevails
  • that a specific statute prevails over a general statute
  • that human-rights legislation receives special treatment above ordinary statutes

But all of this is just part of the analysis of text, context, and purpose involved in ordinary statutory interpretation.

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In the U.S., if there is a conflict between Federal Law and State Law, Federal Law trumps State law. In addition, if there is a conflict between Federal Law and Federal Law, the law that was written more recently will trump older law in so far as the conflict exists UNLESS older law is part of U.S. Constitutional Law, in which case the older law is trumped.

To illustrate, suppose a law written in 2000 says "No one shall have neither cake nor ice cream at their birthday parties." and a 2014 law says, "People shall have cake at their birthday party." In this scenario, the conflict is between the part about cake, since the 2014 law is more recent, Cake is now legal, but since it says nothing about ice cream, the 2000 law is not repealed as the ice cream clause is still possibly in effect.

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    "in which case the older law is trumped" - I presume you meant to say that the older law trumps, and not is trumped?
    – NotAPro
    Aug 18, 2023 at 13:25
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    I notice that there's no discussion of any actual laws supporting your analysis. Is it safe to assume this answer is just a blind guess?
    – bdb484
    Aug 18, 2023 at 13:40
  • @NotAPro It is correct as is. The New law will trump the older law, because the more recent law is the last discussion had on the issue. If there is a conflict, the newer law is decided.
    – hszmv
    Aug 21, 2023 at 17:11
  • @Bdb484: Federal trumps State Law is in the Supremecy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The "New Law supersedes the Old Law when in conflict" is general Common Law Stare decisis that likely predates U.S. Law.
    – hszmv
    Aug 21, 2023 at 17:14
  • "General Common Law Stare Decisis"? It feels like you're just picking random legal phrases here. If it's the law, there's going to be a case that says it. If there isn't, it's worth disclosing that your answer is just a guess.
    – bdb484
    Aug 21, 2023 at 19:23
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My interpretation is that the federal law which was enacted first, preempts the law in which it is in conflict with, unless Congress explicitly stated it's intent to supersede the older law. For example, federal courts have held that the Wilderness Act preempts the Rehabilitation Act because the Wilderness Act was enacted prior to the Rehabilitation Act.

With HERA 2008 and the Fair Housing Act, it's not so straightforward, as both have been amended many times. The Fair Housing Act, originally passed in 1968, was amended in 1988 to include disability as a protected category. HERA 2008 is an amended version of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, and it was not until 2008 that the provision was added which allowed LIHTC recipients to charge Section 8 voucher recipients a higher rent. So, in this case, it appears the Fair Housing Act prempts HERA 2008, with regard to HERAs provision which allows LIHTC landlords to charge NED voucher recipients a higher rent being disability discrimination prohibited by the FHA.

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    This analysis is anything close to this simple. There is a process involved and all sorts of considerations, involving issues like legislative intent, the overall scheme of the legislation, legislative history, whether there was an intent to repeal, whether the common law is codified, etc. Judicial opinions resolving these issues often run to dozens of pages of detailed analysis and the outcomes are all over the map and resolved in highly fact intense ways.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 18, 2023 at 18:07
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    – Community Bot
    Aug 18, 2023 at 20:39

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