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An overview of conflicts of laws

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When you live in a country that has both state laws and federal laws, you can sometimes run into a conflict of laws situation where a court has to decide which state laws govern a case in a particular situation, or the occasional battle between state and federal laws. Ever since the founding of the country, courts have battled, argued and formed precedence on these matters and even though we are only at one spot on the never ending continuum of defining conflicts of laws, we will try to take a look at how the process has worked up to this point.

In essence, there are three different ways that the conflict of law can be examined. State courts have two different procedures, one called lex fori and one known as lex loci, while the federal court system uses the Constitution of the United States to interpret how different state laws can trump each other in certain qualifications.

In the case of lex fori, a court will decide on a law conflict if the conflict has to do with procedural law. This is known as the law of the forum state and is often interpreted as following the law in which the court resides in. A simple example would be if a court case is brought up where two people from two different states are fighting over a piece of land located in the state where the court case is being heard. The state laws in both states say that the other state has jurisdiction, so the court would rule that the state in which the court case is being heard trumps the state in which either the plaintiff or the defendant is from.

In a case of lex loci, the court will apply the rules and laws of that state in which the violation of law actually happened in. This is the most obvious choice for the overwhelming majority of cases in which a conflict of law happens in.

There have been several tests to the conflict of law argument over the last 200-plus years since the founding of the United States and the inevitable conflict between states rights began. Let’s look at how some of these precedents have been set.

A significant contracts test is sometimes used to help resolve a conflicts of law scenario. With this test, the judge must decide which state is most closely involved in the case. Since this is subjective, it is highly criticized by observers who want a more objective way of resolving the conflict.

With the Seat of Relationship test, the judge will examine in which state the majority of the interaction and business between the two took place. If one state appears to have a clear majority, then that state’s laws will be used.

Other such tests as the Better Rule test, the comparative impairment test and the Balance of Interests tests also influence conflict of laws resolutions. The Supreme Court has even ruled on several occasions on how conflicts of laws resolutions are to be resolved. The defining of these laws is, as always, a work in progress.

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