Miln (Defendant) challenged a fine on the basis that the law he had violated was an unconstitutional intrusion into Congress’s exclusive power to regulate commerce.
Under the Constitution, the states retain an exclusive authority to police internally.
New York passed a law in 1824 that required the master of a ship arriving in New York from another state or country to provide information on the passengers, to post security for the support of immigrants who become wards of the city, and to remove noncitizens whom the mayor determined might become wards. Defendant was fined $15,000 for violating the law and argued that the New York law was unconstitutional because it interfered with Congress’s power to regulate commerce, which he believed to be exclusive.
Does a state have the exclusive authority to enact internal police measures?
(Barbour, J.) Yes. Under the Constitution, the states retain an exclusive authority to police internally. The state law at issue in this case was enacted as a police measure, not a regulation of commerce. The subject of the law was people, not commerce. The law is a properly enacted police measure and is, therefore, constitutional.
(Story, J.) Congress’s power to regulate commerce is an exclusive power. Under this authority, Congress has passed laws regarding passenger ships and immigration. New York’s law has a valid state purpose—preventing paupers from entering the state—but does so through the unauthorized regulation of commerce.
(Thompson, J.) Even if viewed as a regulation on commerce, this state law would be constitutional. States may regulate commerce until Congress steps in. The New York law does not conflict with a federal law, so it is constitutional even if it does regulate commerce.
At the time of this decision, Congress was not enacting many regulations concerning commerce. If states were not able to pass their own legislation, there would be no regulation of commerce at all. This made the determination of whether states were authorized to regulate where federal law was silent significant.