What Is Federal Law?

Federal law refers to a body of legal regulations created by the government of a given country, distinct from state law which is controlled by local governments within that same nation.

A federal government is formed when multiple political units, such as states, join together in a federation and delegate some powers to one central authority while keeping other powers reserved for themselves. Generally referred to as a national government, but increasingly used to refer to an association of states united under one central control.

Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government and passes new laws and amendments to the Constitution. Additionally, the United States Supreme Court upholds these laws when necessary.

The Constitution serves as the cornerstone of federal law and takes precedence over state law unless preempted by a higher authority, such as a statute. There are various scenarios in which federal statutes can preempt state laws, and courts have established various methods for deciding when one particular federal law should be interpreted to supersede another set of state regulations.

Generally, federal law can preempt state laws when: (1) a conflict between them is anticipated; (2) when a federal law establishes an obligation that conflicts with existing provisions of state legislation; and (3) when it encroaches on territory which the state has not yet regulated or declared unconstitutional.

State and federal law often clash on immigration, criminal justice, and employment matters. Federal immigration rules are stricter than what state laws offer, leading to legal or illegal situations for immigrants who enter without authorization or attempt to secure a work visa in violation of their rights as citizens.

Immigration is a complex subject. There are multiple federal agencies responsible for it, as well as numerous laws related to the process.

Employers of foreign workers may be in violation of federal immigration law if they fail to abide by the requirements set out in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Furthermore, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay employees at least the federal minimum wage as well as overtime pay.

In a similar vein, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 prohibits insurance issuers from granting less favorable terms for medical or surgical benefits to those with mental illness or substance use disorder (MH/SUD).

Federal agencies monitor and enforce the application of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets standards for wages and overtime pay that apply to most private and public employers.

Federal agencies must adhere to a variety of regulations in order to enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act. For instance, the Wage and Hour Division investigates and enforces requirements under this act for both nonagricultural operations and agricultural operations alike; additionally, they examine other federal laws like Employee Retirement Income Security Act or Social Security Act regarding wage-and-hour standards enforcement.

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