Brief Fact Summary. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) held that a Defendant, state of New Jersey (Defendant) statute, which prohibited other states from disposing of solid and liquid waste in New Jersey, violated the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution (Constitution).
Synopsis of Rule of Law. State laws, which regulate commercial activity, may not favor in-state interests over out-of-state interests.
Facts. A New Jersey law prohibited the importation of solid or liquid waste that originated or was collected from outside of the State. The stated purpose of the statute was to protect the quality of the environment of New Jersey. Private landfill operators challenged the constitutionality of the law. The State Supreme Court held that the statute advanced vital environmental objectives.
Issue. Did the New Jersey waste importation statute violate the Commerce Clause?
Held. Yes. The judgment of the State Supreme Court is reversed.
Protectionism measures can be unconstitutional for their means as well as their ends.
Whatever the purpose of the statute, it may not be accomplished by discriminating against articles of out-of-state commerce, unless there is some reason, apart from their out-of-state origin, for doing so. On its face, the statute imposes on out-of-state commerce the full burden of conserving the state’s landfill space. The statute violates the principle of non-discrimination both on its face and by its effect.
Dissent. Justice William Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist) stated that the Constitution does not require New Jersey to receive and dispose of solid waste from other States when doing so will inexorably increase the health problems of its citizens.
Discussion. State actions that are “protectionist” in nature (i.e., favoring in-state interests at the expense of out-of-state interests) are generally unconstitutional. In this case, the Supreme Court explains that state statutes need not be proven purposefully protectionist in order to be held unconstitutional. A state statute may also be regarded as unconstitutional protectionist legislation if it is only discriminatory on its face.