Federalism and the Rise of State Consumer Protection Law in the United States


Starting in the 1960s, individual states began to adopt and enforce Consumer Protection Acts (“CPAs”), the purpose of which was to supplement the FTC’s consumer protection authority to prohibit “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” By 1981, each state had its own CPA. The proliferation of state CPAs provides a valuable opportunity to observe competitive federalism in action and to observe the potential effects of concurrent state and federal regulation. The purpose of this paper is to understand the role of state CPAs in the consumer protection landscape with an eye toward drawing lessons concerning whether state CPAs manifest the benefits of competitive federalism, embody a failure of this principle, or neither. After describing the dramatic rise and expansion of state CPAs, this paper focuses upon two empirical studies that cast significant doubt upon the failure of jurisdictional competition to constrain the adoption of state CPA features likely to result in net harm to consumers.