City of Philadelphia v. New Jersey Case Brief

Summary of City of Philadelphia v. New Jersey (1978)

Relevant Facts: The Supreme Court reverses two state court rejections of Philadelphia landfill operator claims that a NJ prohibition of the importation of solid or liquid waste which originated or was collected outside the territorial limits of the state was a DCC violation.

Issue: Under constitutional law, is a state law regulating the transport of waste within its state boundaries under the claim of health regulation a preemption by one state government over another’s citizens from conducting business there, and thus a DCC problem?

Holding: Yes. States are not free from constitutional scrutiny when they restrict that movement, as the transport of waste from state-to-state is something which could be federally regulated as a means of commerce, but is not explicitly written in the constitution.

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: The constitutions gives Congress the power to regulate commerce among the States, but many subjects are not explicitly stated in the document, and are thus dormant, usually because of their local character and their number and diversity.

Economic isolation and protectionism has been seen by the Court in the past, while it also recognizes there may sometimes be an incidental burden on interstate commerce when the states themselves regulate a law for the general welfare of its own citizens. There are times when there are not the best intentions in this regulation, such as when a state, through its law-making, is trying to stop the flow of interstate commerce at its borders.

The test is whether the statute/law is a protectionist measure or if it is a legitimate rule directed to legitimate local concerns, in which the effects on interstate commerce become incidental. The state here claims the latter part of the test, in that it is trying to protect the interests of its citizens for its own health, its pocketbooks, and its environment. Both NJ courts accepted this theory. But the Court rejects this theory.

This is because the rejection of something on its face for just the above reasons given, is a discrimination of all commerce only on the basis of its origin, which is unconstitutional. “What is crucial is the attempt by one State to isolate itself from a problem common to many by erecting a barrier against the movement of interstate trade.”

This discrimination is different from other preemptive strikes on waste collection, as the other ones dealt with the destruction of animal carcasses upon arriving within State borders, which for health reasons was seen as a legitimate concern to stop the flow of interstate regulation within a state.

The Court says if it lets NJ stop interstate commerce come in for this reason, it might escalate over time to other things, and then to the point where it is totally protectionist. This cannot be tolerated.

Rule: Businesses which are not explicitly regulated by the Commerce Clause may still be so implicitly if that business, industry, or law does not act within the restraints imposed by the Commerce Clause itself. This is a per se rule.

Important Dicta: Aside from the decision, important info…

Dissenting: (Justice Rehnquist, Burger) In relation to the animal carcasses argument, these justices do not see how the States can ban something which, if moved, could cause health problems, but cannot ban the importing of hazardous materials which once in the State create a health risk of great proportion. If the Court has previously upheld quarantine laws even though they singled out interstate commerce for special treatment.



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