New York v. United States Case Brief

Summary of New York v. United States
505 U.S. 144 (1992).

Facts: Congress passed Low-Lever Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985. This basically required states to provide for disposal of waste generated by them and it had 3 incentives that are under dispute in this case. 1. States with disposal sites can impose surcharge on radioactive waste from other states. 2. States were allowed to gradually increase the cost of access to their disposal sites and eventually deny access to states that have no complied with the statute. 3. States that failed to dispose all of their waste by a certain date will become liable for all damages suffered by the waste’s generator or owner as a result of the state’s failure to promptly take possession. The state of New York claims that this statute is unconstitutional.

Procedure: The lower court dismissed the complaint.

Issue: Do the incentives provided in the statue cross the Constitutional limits?

Holding: Incentives 1 & 2= No; Incentive 3: Yes

Rationale: New York does not contend that the Congress doesn’t have the power to regulate the disposal of radioactive waste. But New York claims that the method the statute has used is unconstitutional because it directly orders the states to follow the will of the Congress. In the structure of our Constitution, it is clear that the Congress is designed to have direct legislative power over the people and not the states. Congress may encourage states to regulate an activity in a certain way by providing incentives. This is what the 1st and 2nd provisions of the statute are doing. But Congress cannot compel states to act in a certain way. In the 3rd provision, Congress has given the states the choice of either accepting ownership of waste or regulating according to the instructions of Congress. This is coercion and not encouragement. According to the court, Federalism model of government is necessary to keep accountability in our system. “Where Congress encourages state regulation rather than compelling it, state governments remain accountable to the people. By contrast, where the Federal Government compels States to regulate, the accountability of both state and federal officials is diminished."


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