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Experts to tackle preemption puzzles at UF Law Nelson Symposium

Published: January 14th, 2013

Category: News

Everybody knows that federal law preempts state law, which in turn preempts local law – pretty simple right? Unfortunately, it’s not always quite so clear. The area of preemption in law can raise some tricky questions in several areas, including firearms, immigration, renewable energy, agriculture and fracking.

State and national legal experts at the University of Florida Levin College of Law’s 12th annual Richard E. Nelson Symposium in Law will attempt to pull apart some of these preemption puzzles brought about by cases in which federal, state or local laws may conflict.

The symposium, “Preemption Puzzles: Firearms, Fracking, Foreigners, Fuels and Farming,” is Feb. 8 at the Hilton UF Conference Center in Gainesville from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. The symposium is co-sponsored by The Florida Bar City, County and Local Government Law Section and Environmental and Land Use Law Section.

Preemption is a matter of concern to lawyers in the public and private sectors and to government officials at all levels. And clear guidance from state and federal courts is rare in the area of preemption, which means that lawyers struggle with locating the legally defensible “comfort zone” for state and local statutes, ordinances, permitting, and regulation.

“The rules courts use to decide under what conditions federal law overrides state law and state law overrides local law appear to be straightforward,” said UF Law Professor Michael Allan Wolf, the Richard E. Nelson Chair in Local Government Law, “but in this instance, as in so many others in American law, appearances are very deceiving. This is a crucial field of law that is fraught with ambiguity.”

Each of the five areas to be explored have been frequent topics in the national media recently. Fracking – the controversial practice of using pressurized fluid to release valuable resources like natural gas from layers of rock – is the topic of the recent Matt Damon movie, “Promised Land.” Gun control has been on the lips of many cable news commentators in the wake of mass shootings across the nation, and the political battles over immigration reform are at high pitch.

Speakers at this year’s symposium include Professor John R. Nolon, Pace University School of Law; Professor Michael O’Shea, Oklahoma City University School of Law; Associate Professor Rick Su, SUNY Buffalo Law School; Assistant Professor Hannah Wiseman, Florida State University College of Law; Amy T. Petrick, senior assistant county attorney, Palm Beach County; environmental and land use law attorney Robert N. Hartsell, Fort Lauderdale; Dave Mica, executive director, Florida Petroleum Council; Samantha Culp and Eric Fisher, J.D. candidates, UF Law; and Wolf.

The symposium is named in honor of Richard E. Nelson, who served with distinction as Sarasota County attorney for 30 years, and his wife, Jane Nelson, two UF alumni who gave more than $1 million to establish the Richard E. Nelson Chair in Local Government Law, which is responsible for the annual event. Their support of the Levin College of Law’s Environmental and Land Use Program has been key to the program’s success and national recognition for excellence.

Conference registration is $100 (there is no charge for UF law students and faculty) and includes all program activities (including reception, continental breakfast, breaks, lunch). The registration deadline is Feb. 5. For online registration and payment, please go to To download the symposium brochure with registration form to send via mail, visit




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