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

  •  The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Act Amendments of 1985 required States (alone or in compacts with other States) to dispose of radioactive waste within their borders.
    • This was a proposed solution to the NIMBY problem (not in my backyard).
  • New York State and Allegany and Courtland counties were unable to comply with the law due to resistance from residents to proposed radioactive waste sites and a lack of cooperation from neighboring States.
  • New York filed suit against the Federal government, questioning the authority of Congress to regulate State waste management.
    • Oddly, a lot of New York State officials were in favor of this law.
      • Of course, that doesn’t matter.  Constitutional law isn’t about getting people to agree, it’s about what the law says.  You can’t violate the Constitution, even if you get the relevant branches of government to all agree to do it. (see Buckley v. Valeo (424 U.S. 1 (1976)) for example).
  • The US Supreme Court upheld two of the three provisions of the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Act, reasoning that Congress had the authority under the Interstate Commerce Clause to use financial rewards and access to disposal sites as incentives for state waste management.
    • The first provision was financial rewards.  Basically the States that don’t accept waste (or are not part of compacts) are charged a surcharge by States that have disposal sites.  But they don’t get the money, the money gets filtered through the Secretary of Energy and provided back to the States creating the waste if they were able to build a disposal site or get into a compact before the 1993 deadline.
      • States can’t tax interstate commerce!  But this is coming directly from the Federal government, and the States doing the taxing don’t get the money, so it’s ok.
    • The second provision was access.  The surcharges will increase every year, and at some point access would be completely denied.
    • The third provision, the take-title qualification, stipulated that States must take legal ownership and liability for low-level waste by 1996.  Alternately, they could enact legislation to enact the Federal proposal.  The US Supreme Court found that this crossed the line distinguishing encouragement from coercion.
      • “Either type of Federal action would commandeer State governments into the service of Federal regulatory purposes, and would for this reason be inconsistent with the Constitution’s division of authority between Federal and State governments.”
      • Basically, with the first two provisions, the States would have had pay more $$$, but would have a choice if they wanted to participate or not.  The third provision though didn’t give the States a choice.  No choice = coersion.
      • In addition, this provision would give the Federal government regulatory authority over who owned the waste.  The Federal government had no Constitutional authority to regulate wastes.
        • The part of the third provision, where the States were told to enact the Federal program, was an attempt to get the States to acquiesce to increased Federal authority to regulate something that they couldn’t Constitutionally regulate.
        • Federal government can’t force States to enact State legislation.
    • The Court found that take-title qualification violated the 10th Amendment.
    • In a dissent, it was claimed that history is by no means supportive of the position that the Federal government had no authority to regulate States.
      • The majority had argued that under the Articles of Confederation, it was said that the Federal government had the power to regulate States, but not individuals.  But the Constitution flip-flopped and allowed regulation of individuals, but not States.  The dissent claimed that this was just wrong.
  • How does this ruling compare to that of Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority (469 U.S. 528 (1985))?  In that case, the Federal government was basically forcing States to enact minimum wage laws.  Same basic principle, but a different ruling.
    • It was stated that Garcia was still ok, because it only forced State governments to come into compliance with the Federal standards already in place for private companies.  In this case, there was no regulation of individuals or companies, so the cases are distinguished.