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June 13, 2012

NCSL Backs Vermont Against ‘Intruding’ Federal Court 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In court papers filed on Monday, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) argued that a federal judge “distorted the legislative process” by relying on excerpts from Vermont’s legislative record to drastically curtail the state’s authority over a nuclear power plant.

NCSL’s amicus brief took issue with Judge J. Garvan’s sole reliance on selected tidbits from Vermont’s legislative record to determine the legislature’s intent:

“Unfortunately, the district court’s speculative search for legislative motives beyond those found on the face of the statutes reflects a misunderstanding of the judiciary’s role in preemption cases, and intrudes upon well-established legislative branch prerogatives.

Legislative record excerpts are neither an appropriate means of controlling legislative authority nor a reliable indicator of legislative motivation. Rather, the relevant motivation is always best expressed in the statutory language itself, the only language to which both houses of the Vermont Legislature and the Governor have committed themselves…This subjective and impressionistic evaluation of a partial legislative record threatens to distort the legislative process.”

At issue was whether Vermont, in a pair of statutes enacted in 2005 and 2006, lawfully exercised its authority to regulate the non-radiological aspects of nuclear generation at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 preempts state authority to regulate nuclear safety.


NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.