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Aaron B. Cooley v. The Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia ex rel. Society for Relief of Distressed Pilots

Citation. 53 U.S. (12 HOW.) 299 (1851)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Cooley refused to hire a local pilot and also refused to pay the fine, in violation of a Pennsylvania law.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

This system of fees is an appropriate use of the state’s power.


There was a Pennsylvania law requiring all ships entering or exiting the port of Philadelphia to hire a local pilot. Those who did not were subject to a fine, and the funds went to support retired pilots.

Cooley refused to hire a local pilot and also refused to pay the fine. The Board sued Cooley, and Cooley argued that the law violated the Commerce Clause.


Did the Pennsylvania law violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution?


No, the Pennsylvania law is constitutional.


There are local issues, like this pilotage issue, that are appropriately handled by the states. Navigation is commerce, but conditions are variable, which makes it appropriate for states to handle.

The Constitution grants Congress the power to regulate commerce, but it does not deprive the states of the power to regulate parts of commerce. Congress has manifested an intention to not regulate this particular subject.

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