If that’s the law then
The 19th-century British author Charles Dickens once worked as a clerk at a law firm, and many of the characters in his novels were derived from clients he met while working at the firm. In one of his novels from the 1840s, I don’t remember which one by Dickens, there was a colloquy between two of the characters. The first character explains to the second character the operation of a new British law that has just come into force. Upon learning of the new law, the second character replies in disbelief, “Sir, if that’s the law, then the law is an ass!” Ever since I read that Dickens novel whose title I do remember, I have often read about new laws or legal rulings that remind me that Dickens’s character was right to describe the “law as an ass.” Here is a case in point that I remember writing about at the time.
In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit struck down a recently enacted New York law that required airlines to provide food, water, clean restrooms, and fresh air to passengers stuck on delayed planes. The law was struck down by the court, which noted that while the measure was well-intentioned, it violated federal authority.
The law was passed after thousands of passengers were stranded for up to ten hours on various JetBlue Airways flights at Kennedy International Airport on Valentine’s Day in 2007. Passengers complained of being deprived of food and water and that the toilets overflowed. A month later, passengers from other airlines were stranded aboard other airlines at Kennedy after an ice storm.
The law was challenged by the Air Transport Association of America, the industry trade group that represents major US airlines. It is strange that this trade group actually appears to be advocating that passengers be deprived of food, water, and clean toilets on stranded commercial aircraft.
The Second Circuit held that although the law’s goals were “laudable” and the circumstances that prompted its adoption were “deplorable,” only the federal government has the authority to pass such regulations. The doctrine of preference establishes that, according to the Commerce Clause, the federal rules that protect the health, safety and welfare of people who travel in our country must prevail and preempt or override any statute of state law that speaks about the same. affair. We can certainly understand the federal doctrine of preference; however, in this case we should say: “Sir, if that is the law, then the law is an ass!”
See: Air Transport Association of America, Inc. c. Cuomo, No. 07-5771-cv, slip op (2d Cir. Mar. 25, 2008). 2008 US Application Lexis 6130